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Best recipes come from best friends

February 21, 2012

What’s sad about the transition from college in real live adulthood is the fact that I’m geographically separated from some of my best friends. Take Shannon for example, whom I met while we were freshmen living in the same dorm. She resides five hours away in New Orleans.
All of my friends bring unique qualities into my life, and Shannon’s is her exquisite taste in home décor. If I ever need advice in that area, I trust Shannon entirely. When no one else could, for example, she convinced me that peacock feathers are not only acceptable for a Christmas tree but are downright beautiful.
Aside from her other strengths such as her savvy fashion sense, her knack for gardening, her dedicated attendance at Pilates class, her witty sense of humor and her love for sailing, one of my favorite things about Shannon is her way with food. This chick can cook.
Just after we graduated college, we’d meet up at her apartment in Jackson once a week for a veritable feast. We had lamb burgers with tabouleh and yogurt sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, turkey with all the fixings — I could go on. When Shannon moved for her new job in New Orleans, she left me with a new arsenal of recipes to try, including one for quesadillas that she made to accompany a dinner of fajitas and other Latin treats.
These quesadillas are simple to make yet complex in flavor. The bean filling freezes well, so you can do as I do and make a double batch to freeze for a night when you don’t quite feel like cooking.
One bite in, and I am instantly transported to an evening around Shannon’s little green table, surrounded by glasses of good red wine and fashion magazines, with a warm breeze pouring through the windows. Not so bad in the middle of a gloomy winter, and not a bad memory of a great friend.

Shannon’s Quesadillas

1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1/3 c. sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 T. olive oil
1 t. cocoa (I prefer Dutch processed or Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. ground chili powder
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 T. lemon juice
12 tortillas (I use whole grain)
Feta cheese, crumbled (I use tomato basil flavored) or goat cheese
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Chopped cilantro leaves
Baby spinach
Olive oil for brushing

Place the onion and garlic in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Set aside. Process the sun-dried tomatoes in the food processor until smooth; set aside. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for two to three minutes until soft. Add the tomatoes, cocoa, cumin, chili powder and paprika and cook for two minutes until fragrant. Add the beans and lemon juice and cook for three to four minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture back into the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped but still retaining texture.
Spread half of the tortillas with the bean mixture. Scatter with feta or goat cheese, cheddar, cilantro and baby spinach leaves. Top with remaining tortillas and brush with olive oil on both sides. Grill on an outdoor grill, grill pan or skillet for two minutes on each side or until the outsides are toasted and the insides are melted. Cut into wedges and serve with lemon or lime wedges, sour cream and salsa if desired.

Kate Salter is a lecturer at Mississippi State University. Email her at

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