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Welcome to Pati's Table

Patricia Jinich's quesadillas are a revelation to anyone who hasn't been to one of her classes, or to Mexico. The recipe's at the end of this post. (Monika Pamp)

You know how some people just light up a room? In Patricia Jinich's case, it's more than just the smile, although hers is spectacular. It's her unique combination of grace, modesty, passion and energy that does it. She also happens to have quickly become one of my favorite cooking teachers in the city. When I finally made it to one of her classes at the gorgeous Mexican Cultural Institute, where she is the house chef, I kept thinking to myself, "Why does Ingrid Hoffman have a Food Network show, and Pati doesn't?"

Patricia Jinich, ready for her closeup. (Cade Martin)

It was a few weeks ago, and the theme was street food. Pati demonstrated a few things, including esquites, corn cooked in buttery, spicy broth and then garnished with mayo, cheese, lime, salt and chili pepper; and the most over-the-top sandwiches I've ever seen, a pambazo, which now that I think of it might just be the inspiration for the sloppy Joe, even though it's so much better. Anyway, I'll let Pati describe it: "crusty bread smothered in a guajillo sauce, fried to a golden perfection and stuffed with one of my favorite combinations, potato and chorizo."

When she made one, the crowd gasped at every turn. It felt like an episode of "Paula's Party" ("No, she didn't!"), only with better food. She enlisted Rosa Mexicano chef James Muir to make fresh churros, and after engaging in a little Mexico-versus-Argentina banter (which is better, dulce de leche or cotija de leche?) sent the 80 or so audience members into the other room where little carts were set up to serve tastes of everything she and James demo'ed and more: aguas frescas (horchata and tamarind), fresh fruit cups seasoned with lime, salt and chili pepper; nopal (cactus paddle) tostadas with fresh cheese and avocado; chicken enchiladas in a green tomatillo sauce; tacos de carnitas; flavored gelatin, champurrado, a hot chocolate thickened with masa; and quesadillas made with squash blossoms, poblano strips and cheese.

"The thing that you must understand about street food," she told us, "is that everybody has a favorite. So when I told people I was doing this, one would say, 'Oh, you absolutely have to have the champurrado.' And another would say, 'What about quesadillas? You must have quesadillas."

Besides the addictive pambazos (huge and so good that after cutting one in half because I couldn't possibly, I of course went back and got two more halves), my favorite taste was the quesadillas. Pati makes them the traditional way, using freshly made masa dough instead of already made corn tortillas, and she deep-fries them, so they become a little more like the Colombian arepa. I liked the looks of the recipe so much I waited until I could get fresh squash blossoms in the market, which is why I didn't blog about this event until a month afterward. I got them from a farmer at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market, for $5 a pint, just a tad more than the $2-for-a-huge-bag that Pati pays when she visits home.

Yet another reason to go to Mexico. As if I needed one.

Pati's been getting more notoriety lately, thanks in part to Joan Nathan's recent profile of her in that certain paper up north. Pati just relaunched her blog, Pati's Mexican Table, with gorgeous photography and design to match the recipes, and you might soon see her on Twitter, too.

All in all, I couldn't be happier for her. I am just waiting for Food Network (or maybe Bravo?) to take notice.
-- Joe Yonan

When instant corn flour such as Maseca is involved, all it takes is a tortilla press to make quesadillas the traditional way. (Monika Pamp)

Squash Blossom, Poblano and Cheese Quesadillas
Makes 16 quesadillas

These indulgent, traditional little turnovers get their special crisp texture from deep-frying masa made from instant corn flour. If you don’t have a tortilla press or want to make the dough, you can use store-bought tortillas for something closer to the familiar griddled quesadilla Americans and Mexicans alike adore. If you use 6-inch store-bought corn tortillas, the same amount of filling will make 12 quesadillas.

From Mexican Cultural Institute chef and cooking teacher Patricia Jinich, who blogs at

2 large poblano chili peppers
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon safflower or corn oil
1/2 small white onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 medium clove garlic, finely chopped (about 1 teaspoon)
12 ounces (about 8 cups) fresh squash blossoms, rinsed, dried and chopped
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
4 ounces Oaxaca cheese, grated (about 4 ounces; may substitute part-skim mozzarella)
2 cups instant corn masa flour, such as Maseca, plus 1 1/4 cup water (may substitute 12 store-bought 6-inch corn tortillas)

To prepare the poblano peppers, place them on a tray under the broiler, directly on the grill or directly on the open flame. Turn them every 2 to 3 minutes for a total of 6 to 8 minutes, until they are charred and blistered all over.

Transfer them to a plastic bag, close it tightly and let them cool for 10 to 20 minutes.

Working under a thin stream of cold water, peel off each pepper’s skin, make a slit down each side to remove and discard the seeds and veins, and remove and discard the stem. Cut them into 1/2-inch-wide strips.

Combine the butter and oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil has melted, add the onion and garlic; cook about 5 minutes, stirring, until soft and translucent.

Add the prepared poblano peppers, the squash blossoms and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the blossom juices exude their juices and then the mixture begins to dry out. Remove from the heat.

If using premade tortillas: Heat the tortillas in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 10 to 15 seconds per side, so they will not break when you fold them. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the squash flower/poblano mix on half of a tortilla. Fold it in half and press down. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, until cheese is completely melted and tortilla is slightly crisped.

If using homemade masa, place 1/4 cup of the water in a large mixing bowl; add the corn flour and remaining water in several additions, stirring with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough for a few minutes to rid it of any lumps, adding a little water if it feels too dry. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel.

Meanwhile, cut circles from a resealable plastic food storage bag and use them to line a tortilla press. Line a platter with several layers of paper towels.

Heat enough oil to measure 2 inches deep in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil reaches 375 degrees, make the quesadillas: Divide the dough into 1-inch balls. Take a ball and place it on top of the plastic on the bottom side of the press, top with another layer of plastic and press down to make a flat disk.

Place 1 tablespoon of the cheese and 2 tablespoons of the filling at the center of the dough disk and, leaving it in the plastic, fold it over and press to seal the edges. Repeat to form the rest of the quesadillas, using all the dough and filling.

Carefully add a few quesadillas at a time to the hot oil, making sure to not crowd the skillet. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, turning as needed. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the paper-towel-lined platter to drain.

Serve hot, with your favorite salsa.

Per quesadilla: 91 calories, 3 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 186 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

By Joe Yonan  |  June 11, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Joe Yonan, recipes  
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Okay, I'm a fan. Now if I could just get Pati's recipe for fish tacos....

Posted by: davemarks | June 12, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

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