While doing some research the other day, I came across an old menu from the lovely Restaurante El Arrayán in Puerto Vallarta which we visited several years ago. I was hugely impressed by their dedication to authentically Mexican dishes, many of them unusual and little known, and well remember their delicious quesadillas filled with hibiscus blossoms. Having looked at their online menu, I was delighted to see that they still make them. It is a combination which works so incredibly well against all odds and the recipe below is my reconstruction. I have no idea how it compares to their original, since it is some time since I tasted it, but it is incredibly good nevertheless. The restaurant’s chefs use a stringy cheese, queso de Oaxaca, which I have replaced with mozzarella, Cheddar and a light, fresh goat’s cheese which complement the natural sharpness and add richness and texture.
Hibiscus blossoms, flor de jamaica or Hibiscus Sabdariffa, are a popular ingredient in Mexico, particularly in a decoction known as agua de jamaica, Jamaican water, which is wonderfully thirst-quenching and a fabulously flamboyant deep magenta colour. This same hue comes through in the cheese mixture for the quesadillas, giving them a decidedly lurid appearance. The flavour is difficult to pin down, with distinct tones of fruit and berries, even wine, but also a well-balanced sweet sharpness and tang.
Flor de Jamaica is widely available in health food shops where it is often sold as a tea.
Hibiscus Blossom Quesadillas – Quesadillas de Flor de Jamaica
Makes 6 quesadillas
25 g/1 oz dried hisbiscus blossoms
30 ml/2 tbsp olive oil + 5 ml/1 tsp
75 g/3 oz red onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
125 g/4 1/2 oz fresh soft goat’s cheese
75 g/3 oz mozzarella cheese, diced or coarsely grated
75 g/3 oz strong Cheddar-style cheese, coarsely grated
6 corn tortillas, about 6 in/15 cm in diameter
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the blossoms in a saucepan, add enough cold water to cover by 2 in/5 cm and bring to the boil. Turn the heat right down and simmer for ten minutes. Strain. You can either discard the liquid or use it to make Jamaican water (see link at the bottom of this article). Squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the flowers and chop fairly finely, as they can be quite coarse in texture.
Heat the two tablespoons of oil in a frying pan, add the onions and cook over medium heat until translucent. Stir in the hibiscus blossoms and some seasoning.
Mash the goat’s cheese, add the mozzarella, Cheddar, plenty of black pepper and the hibiscus and mix well. Check the seasoning and stir in some salt if needed.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and brush it with the one teaspoon of olive oil. Lay the tortillas out on the work surface and divide the cheese mixture between them, spreading it roughly across one half of each tortilla. Fold into a half moon shape. Place the quesadillas in the frying pan – you may need to do this in batches and keep them warm – and cook for three or four minutes on each side, pressing down on them lightly with a spatula, until golden and crusty.
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