Oaxaca (wa-ha-ka) is a state in Southwestern Mexico. Oaxaca cheese is cow’s milk cheese that is a little salty, a little stringy, mild, and it melts into a silky white lava that is a great foundation for a million dishes. To my knowledge there is not actually anything in the world known as an oaxacadilla. I made that up. But this cheese is used by a lot of folks in quesadillas and it is immediately apparent why. The cheese is just friendly that way. I chose a rolled quesadilla so the cheese to stay inside the tortilla, because in it is nested chunks of onion, sautéed mushrooms and roasted poblano peppers. But on subsequent days, I made a more traditional folded “quesadilla” and it was slightly messier, but wonderful all the same.
This softball sized hunk of “Mexican-style” cheese was actually made in Wisconsin. It is made with a pulling method that causes it to be in a string or rope shape which is then rolled up into balls, much like mozzarella. The flavor is a bit similar to mozzarella or Monterrey jack. I would love to try an artisanal or traditional version of this cheese to see how different it is from this larger production one. But the consensus seems to be that it is a mild and buttery treat regardless. That is why it is also beloved by kids, too.
Here, I have sautéed onions and mushrooms. I cook them separately so I can tell exactly when each is finished. But it is quick and you can just transfer the cooked veggies onto a plate together, because they all end up together again. To use the poblano, you first need to roast it, but this is easily accomplished and kind of fun. Just hold it over the gas flame on your stove and blister the heck out of it. The more burnt the skin, the easier it comes off later. After blistering the pepper, you place it in a bag and let it steam for a few minutes. Then, the skin comes right off with the help of a dull knife. Take out the seeds and chop the pepper, and you are ready to go.
This is a simple snack. There really is not a lot involved. If you would like to be able to make them in a hurry, consider sautéing the vegetables the day before and reheating them before assembling the rolls.
Set a burner on your gas stove to medium. Using tongs, very carefully place the poblano directly over the flame. Allow the pepper to remain over the flame until it turns black and begins to blister. Move the pepper around until the entire surface of the pepper is blackened. This takes 8 to 10 minutes. When the pepper is blackened, remove it to a plastic re-sealable bag and seal the bag. Allow the pepper to steam in the bag for about 5 minutes. Remove the pepper and scrape off the skin with the dull side of a knife. Remove the seeds and stems from the pepper and chop it into small pieces.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them until they are translucent and softened. Remove them to a plate. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and sauté the mushrooms quickly, over medium-high heat. Stir them often until they are nicely browned and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and peppers to the mushrooms and continue to cook them together until they are all reheated. Remove the vegetables back the plate.
Cut the cheese into slices and divide it into 6 portions. Divide the vegetables into six portions. Wipe out the skilled and heat it again over medium heat. For each oaxacadilla, warm a tortilla briefly in the pan (to soften it) and then lay it on the counter. Place a portion of cheese and a portion of vegetables on the tortilla. Sprinkle with salt. Roll the sides to the middle and then roll up the tortilla. This provides closed edges so the cheese will not melt out.
Place the rolled tortilla back into the pan and repeat the process. Turn the rolls carefully with tongs, making sure that they do not unroll and spill. Cook the rolls until they are browned and crisp on all sides and the cheese has been given time to melt, about 6 to 7 minutes. Remove the rolls from the pan and serve them immediately with sour cream and salsa.
If you do not have a gas stove, you can also broil the pepper. Just watch them closely and turn them half way through the process. Poblanos are not as hot as jalapenos, but still, be careful to wash your hands after handling them.
I was inspired to make this by my cousin Jeff Bowles. He suggested that I needed to come up with a good recipe for panela, which is basically a skillet of melted cheese topped with chorizo or poblanos, or anything you like. It was in my search for a good melting cheese that I bought this Oaxaca. I think it would be a perfect cheese for panela, but I just haven’t gotten there yet. Thanks, Jeff!