Quesadillas for dinner again? You don’t say! For parents of young children, the quesadilla is a no-brainer vehicle for sustenance: carby, cheesy, and pleasing to most. (There’s always an outlier, of course. My daughter claims she doesn’t like mac and cheese. We’re working on this.)
The quesadilla is also quick to make, which, as everyone — parent or not — knows, is essential for weeknight cooking. While I make plenty of simple cheese quesadillas, the frequency with which I serve tortillas plus cheese to my four- and six-year-olds inspired me to add in vegetables when I could. After trying to sneak in a range of options, from finely diced peppers to chopped broccoli and squash, the most successful version I’ve found is the sweet potato and spinach quesadilla.
My trick here is to smash and spread the sweet potato onto the tortilla. Bright orange, it kind of passes for cheese — or at least isn’t objectionable in the eyes of my children.
Usually, I’ll roast a sweet potato ahead of time. Roasting yields the sweetest, most tender flesh that even the most discerning little eater would have a hard time resisting. If I didn’t plan ahead and don’t have enough time to roast the sweet potato in the oven, I stick that tuber in the microwave on the potato setting and it’s ready in minutes. Once the sweet potato is cooked, I slice it in half and, using a spoon, scoop out the flesh. Then, using the back of a fork, I smash it onto the tortilla and, returning to the spoon, spread it out evenly. (I’ll save the other half of the sweet potato to cube or mash and serve tomorrow.)
For parents of young children, the quesadilla is a no-brainer vehicle for sustenance: carby, cheesy, and pleasing to most.
On top of the mashed sweet potato, I sprinkle chopped, wilted spinach and shredded cheese. The spinach I’ve wilted in the microwave or in a skillet, and chopped fine. When I lightly press it into the mashed sweet potato and sprinkle cheese on top, it goes largely undetected. Seriously. And this is where you can try swapping in other vegetables, too. My advice is to make sure they’re finely chopped or thinly sliced, and very soft, whether it’s steamed or sautéed zucchini, broccoli, or even green beans.
Next comes the cheese, and I use a very heavy hand here to disguise said vegetables. Cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack… whatever the preference is in your house will work. I usually go for a Mexican blend. Another tortilla goes on top and the whole thing cooks in minutes in a skillet. I typically start cooking the quesadilla uncovered over medium heat, flip it, turn down the heat to low, and cover it. Then it continues cooking for one or two more minutes. It’s ready to slide onto a cutting board when the cheese has fully melted and the tortillas have browned slightly. It’s at this point that I never slice myself a sliver or two to eat as the quesadilla cools enough for my impatient audience.
With a pre-roasted sweet potato or one that’s cooked in the microwave, the whole affair takes no more than five to ten minutes. That is true weeknight cooking right there, and with the nutrients from the sweet potato and spinach, I feel pretty great about it.
You certainly don’t need a recipe for this crowd pleaser, but here’s how I put everything together if you’d like some structured inspiration:
Sweet Potato and Spinach Quesadillas
Serving size: 2 little eaters. Double for bigger kids or bigger appetites.
1 medium sweet potato
1 cup loosely packed baby spinach
2 large (burrito-style) tor 4 small (taco-style) flour or corn tortillas.
1 cup loosely packed shredded cheese, such as Cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or a Mexican blend.
1 tablespoon neutral oil
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Wash and dry one medium sweet potato. Poke with a fork. Wrap in tinfoil and roast for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove and let cool. If there isn't time to roast the sweet potato, then wash, dry, poke with a fork, and cook in microwave on potato setting. If you don’t have or use the potato setting, a small sweet potato requires about 4 minutes on high, a medium one requires about 5 minutes, and a large one about 6 minutes. Remove and let cool.
In a skillet or in a bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds, wilt 1 cup of baby spinach. Roughly chop and set aside.
Lay out one large (burrito-style) tortilla or two small (taco-style) tortillas. Cut sweet potato in half and, using a spoon, scoop out flesh. Using the back of a fork, smash the sweet potato flesh directly onto the tortilla(s). Using the back of the spoon used to scoop out the flesh, spread out the flesh evenly. (Save the other half of the sweet potato to cube or mash and serve as a side tomorrow!)
Sprinkle chopped spinach on top of the smashed sweet potato. Lightly press it down into the mash.
Now sprinkle the cheese on top of the sweet potato and spinach — disguising the former and, more importantly, the latter.
Place the remaining tortilla(s) on top.
In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Place filled tortilla(s) in pan and cook, uncovered, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip the quesadilla(s), reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for another 2 minutes. (If you don't have a skillet large enough for two small quesadillas, cook one at a time.)
Slide cooked quesadilla(s) onto a cutting board and cut into wedges.