Chicken Tinga Quesadillas with Oaxaca Cheese

Chicken Quesadilla from Mexico City Before going to Mexico, I asked my friends who’d already been what they recommended doing there and almost everyone told me to try tacos from vendors in the markets.  Since I love to sampling local street treats while traveling, I was all over this. I find street food vendors inspiring because with only the most rudimentary kitchen set-up they dish up numerous, delicious, regional dishes. It gives me hope for my tiny ill-equipped kitchen.

Some people get nervous about street food and worry that Montezuma’s Revenge is lurking in each quesadilla and under every chip every but if you a few simple guidelines you’ll be safe.Quesadillas in Mexico City from Street Vendor

Look for the most popular vendors; the locals don’t want to get sick either and they know what to look for so follow their lead and as a bonus they’ll lead you to the best tasting food too.  Never eat any fresh, unpeeled fruits or vegetables. Be wary of ice in juices or smoothies; if the ice was made from tap water, and it probably was, you’ll regret it tomorrow.Ingredients for Chicken Tinga Quesadillas

We were walking through the Zocalo, when I found my taco trunk. This team was so popular there was a crowd three deep around them. After working our way to the front, we  ordered two of their most popular item and by ordered I mean pointed at said item on the griddle, smiled, nodding vigorously, and said “Dos por favor.”

They turned out to be chicken quesadillas, not tacos, and they were delicious: greasy, cheesy, and spicy.  The type of food, where once you bite into it, you know you should have asked for more napkins.

Chicken Tinga Steps 1 & 2Chicken Tinga Steps 3 & 4

Generally, I don’t like chicken quesadillas because they always come with sliced, grilled, chicken breast tucked into generic rubbery cheese. Its not even the cheese that gets me so much, because even bland cheese is still pretty good but the dried out, tasteless, strips of chicken don’t add anything to the over all quesadilla so why include them?

The chicken tinga quesadillas from Mexico, however, used shredded chicken, that had been cooked with tomatoes, chiles, and spices. It added tons of flavor to the quesadilla.  Mexican chicken tinga quesadillas have American chicken quesadillas beat hands down.  

Melting the cheese

Its also a great way to use up leftover chicken. With the remnants of a rotisserie chicken from last night’s dinner, I ended up with three cups of shredded chicken meat and set out to make some chicken tinga quesadillas that I could be proud of.

I found lots of recipes and took bits and pieces from them all. The only thing I couldn’t find was the Oaxaca cheese that they’d used in Mexico. The closest cheese I found at my grocery store was labeled as ‘quesadilla melting cheese’ and it was as bland as any other generic cheese. I’ll keep my eye out for Oaxaca cheese in the future but until I find it I’d substitute Armenian string cheese or any other good quality string cheese in the chicken tinga quesadillas.

Chicken Quesadillas, Mexican Style

Chicken Tinga Quesadillas with Oaxaca Cheese (makes roughly 9 quesadillas)

(Active time: 30 minutes    Total time: 45 minutes)

  • 3 cups packed shredded chicken meat (about 2 chicken breasts)
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 1 tbsp adobo sauce
  • 1tsp oregano
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 3 c shredded Oaxaca or string cheese
  • 9 corn tortillas
  • Salsa verde (optional)
Heat canola oil in a large skillet.  Sir in onions and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato, chipotle, adobo and oregano. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are cooked through but not falling apart, about 4 minutes.
Remove from heat. Let sauce cool for about 15 minutes then transfer to a food processor.  Puree until smooth and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the shredded chicken to the skillet and pour sauce over the chicken. Stir to combine and simmer until the sauce reduces, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Heat a small nonstick dry skillet over medium heat. Place a tortilla in the skillet and cook, 1 minute. Flip the tortilla. Top tortilla with 1/3 cup cheese and 1/3 cup chicken tinga mixture. Continue cooking until the cheese melts, about 2 minutes. Fold in half and remove from pan and keep warm.  Repeat.
Serve chicken tina quesadillas with salsa verde or your favorite quesadilla toppings.
*The chicken mixture for chicken tina quesadillas can be used in tacos, burritos, tostadas, or over rice or Mexican style coleslaw.
**Chicken tina quesadillas are great as a light meal served with Micheladas or Fresh Lime Margaritas.
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