8.17.2019

Az-Mex

Texas has Tex-Mex. New Mexico has its own distinctive cuisine. And trendy California has fresh-Mex. Arizona, in addition to its Native American Sonoran cuisine, lays claim on a couple of dishes with a similar history using Mexican ingredients transformed in a new home, two-thousand miles from the capital city of México.

It is interesting to note that all four states were once a part of México, and each of these states celebrates the cultural richness we/they have inherited.

One food that is always safe for me (no garlic) in our local Mexican restaurants is the Arizona cheese crisp.

Sometimes I can get guacamole without garlic, and occasionally a quesadilla... but those are never guaranteed. However, I can always count on a cheese crisp.

The Arizona cheese crisp is, more specifically, a Tucson thing, now found more broadly across Arizona. Although invented here, it uses ingredients associated with the adjacent state of Sonora, México. It is a flour tortilla that is baked, then covered with grated cheese, and baked some more. Crispy, cheesy goodness. For my Tucson friends, I got my tortillas at the Heirloom Farmer's Market from Esperanza who owns the Tortilleria Arevalo. Her tortillas are the best!

Crisps often have additional toppings, most commonly green chiles. Once, when a server was feeling bad that there was literally nothing else on the menu for me other than a plain cheese crisp, she offered to add shrimp. This turned potential disappointment into a memorable treat, and has drawn us back to that establishment several times since.

From then on, I knew there was always a port in the storm. I needn’t starve any longer, or even avoid Mexican restaurants… at least here in southern Arizona!

~ David

Arizona Cheese Crisps

4 10-inch flour tortillas
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
8 ounces coarsely grated cheese (I use Monterey Jack, a Mexican blend, or Cheddar)
ground chile flakes, optional, for a little added zing
addition toppings, as desired **

  ** (diced or strips of green chiles, shrimp halved lengthwise)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven.

Line 2 large cookie sheets with foil or parchment (this isn’t necessary, but it does help with clean up) and top with large cooling racks (each rack large enough to hold two tortillas).

Brush both sides of each tortilla with melted butter. Place them on the two racks (on the cookie sheets) and then put the cookie sheets in the oven. Bake for 9 minutes, remove from the oven and flip the tortillas and return them to the oven. Bake another 6-7 minutes until golden. Watch them carefully, as they can go from golden to too dark in the space of a minute. The tortillas on the top rack will turn darker faster.

Remove them from the oven and increase oven heat to 500°F. Top each tortilla with the grated cheese - about 2 ounces of cheese per crisp, not too thick. Sprinkle evenly with ground chile flakes, if using. Add any toppings and return to the oven for 3-5 minutes, when cheese is fully melted and edges of the tortillas are nicely browned. Slice into wedges.

Serves 6-8 as a starter.




42 comments:

  1. We in CA have something similar (there's even a shrimp version at Sharky's) and it's called Mexican Pizza. Which is a terrible name. Cheese crisp is so much more evocative, Crisp is one of those "delicious" words I like to see on blogs. GREG

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  2. There is so much good Mexican food in my neighborhood, I never have to go hungry . Yet , I have never seen your crisp . What a great little snack or light meal. I have some frozen tortillas in the freezer and cheese in the fridge . I know what I am making.

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    1. I really do think you won't see it there - it is definitely an Arizona - and specifically Tucson - thing. I hope you enjoyed it!

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  3. How interesting for me as I probably know less about the cooking from the four states you mention than of any mode in my personal repertoire. However I have made 'crisps' rather similar here and even added small prawns ! Being able to enjoy garlic bulbs like apples, some would be added for certain ! David - do you use any Sonoran recipes which would be interesting to pass on . . . ?

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    1. This crisp, Eha, should be simple and served as is. I would not add garlic. The original has none. If we use garlic in everything, don't you think it will all start tasting the same?

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    2. *smile* Point noted and appreciated ! Don't know I agree about use of garlic in general - - cooking mostly Asian, Middle-Eastern and North African perchance my flavour buds react differently ! Methinks, used correctly and judiciously, it gives a different and largely unnoticeable overtone to most dashes

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    3. I think there is a big difference on how you - as a non-American - sued garlic versus that way Americans do. I would trust you implicitly to used it when called for and in the right amounts. Her, if you order a Bolognese sauce, chances are there is TONS of garlic when, traditionally, there would be none. Americans overdo it (on garlic and so much else). I try to present authentic and traditional foods, and I like respecting those traditions. Thanks for your sweet reply! :)

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  4. Yum! Almost looks like a quesadilla! (P.S. I don't think I could 'live' without garlic). Such a rich combination of food cultures in the Southwest. In California, there is also the Baja-Med tradition coming up from Baja!

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    1. Well, I know you can live because I did once they discovered G was my allergy. The real difference between this and a quesadilla is the cooking method - baked rather than pan-fried.

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  5. This is one of those simple, easily done, quick and amazingly tasty dishes that made me enjoy cooking and baking every single day !

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  6. Yes please! I love the version with shrimp.

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  7. I tend to use olive oil instead of butter. Trader Joe's brand (the light colored one from Italy) is an especially good one. How does that sound to you?

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    1. I think it would work fine - it won't brown as well, but that is fine! Thanks!

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  8. i love prawns so this would be a winner for me. Yum. so you can't eat garlic at all? oh dear. i am a huge garlic fan so that would be a bit soul-destroying...

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    1. I was, too, Sherry - but I got over it and realized that we always rely too heavily on garlic as "the one" seasoning for everything. Now I have hundreds of other spices and herbs to make up for not being able to eat the one!

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  9. Dear David, that's a recipe I have never seen before - sounds like a fun snack food for the kids and us, of course!

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  10. I'm so in for this! Looks/sounds fabulous! I'd love it for brunch. :-)

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  11. That looks amazing!! Love the simplicity of it, and that melted cheese combo looks great for me. Would be very difficult to stop at just a few slices. Thanks for the recipe, David!

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    1. That is why I only make a couple at a time - lest I eat WAY too many! Thanks for your kind comment, Ngeun!

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  12. Those tortillas look fabulous! I'd love this cheese crisp, but must say that I've NEVER heard of garlic in guacamole! Is that an Arizona thing? I actually don't think I'd like it!

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    1. Ha! Then I imagine you have never bought guacamole in a store. Garlic everywhere. Even in most restaurants. However, I know that it is never used in México. In fact, when we go over to Nogales, Sonora, we get the best guacamole which is simply avocados, lime, and salt.

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  13. This is a great dish, I love almost anything with melted cheese. I love Mexican food but it is not so easy to come by in Scotland but I do love making it at home and I can't wait to make this.

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    1. I can imagine it is hard to come by good Mexican in Scotland, Emma. Soon, I will be making tortillas for the blog - then you will be unstoppable in your kitchen!

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  14. David, these cheese crisps look amazing! Kind of like a healthy version of a big nacho! My kids would love these. In fact, I have everything I need to serve some at dinner tonight.

    You've intrigued me about the Sonoran food there in Arizona. Coming from the desert of Dubai, I never planned on visiting another. The food there just might change my mind!

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    1. Well, Kelly - not sure about "healthy" but definitely healthier!

      Our desert is so different form that in Dubai - you should definitely come visit!

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  15. Neat dish! Haven't heard of these, but I love the idea. Will definitely be trying this. :-) Thanks!

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    1. They are great with cocktails - like your mezcal negroni, for example!

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  16. Hi David, I hope you guys summer has been a good one. Well, if there is one food I crave here in Sweden it's Mexican food. Oh, we have taco shells and processed flour tortillas, but nothing that comes near a dish like this. Not a decent Mexican joint in sight, so I cook it at home. I love a good excuse to make up a batch of flour tortillas and your Az-Mex cheese crisp has just given me that excuse. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. There is nothing like homemade tortillas, Ron! I have missed your posts this summer - look forward to having you back soon!

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  17. David, this is wonderful! I've nearly given up on getting a garlic-free meal out. Went to a quite expensive fine dining establishment recently and mentioned the garlic allergy right away. Out of all the appetizers, soups and salads, one salad was my only first course option as they could stir up some plain oil and vinegar for it. For the main course, there were two options for me if I skipped the sauces. One would think at those prices, the chef could have whipped up a little garlic-free pan sauce for my filet mignon, but no. I learned from the server that garlic salt was used in and on nearly everything. Garlic salt!

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    1. Ohm don't I know it, Jean! It is appalling to me that garlic seems to be the only spice they use! I have managed to train a few chefs here in Tucson that garlic doesn't ave to be in everything. Now I can get a few dishes that are really creative and unique without the dreaded G! Oddly, my best bet for garlic-free dining is our neighborhood Italian restaurant,. The chef is from Italy so truly understands Italian cuisine - so many options for me without garlic!

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  18. Oh David, this sounds absolutely gorgeous! I need this for my breakfast right about now. I've never had Monterey Jack, and doubt I'd ever find it here in the mountains, but we do have a plethora of excellent cheddar-style cheeses produced locally. I seriously need to give this a go!

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    1. Any cheddar will work beautifully for this, John. And breakfast? Why hadn't I thought of that??!!

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  19. David, I love this cheese crisp! Yours with shrimp looks perfect. Yes, even the Tex-Mex food here is heavy with garlic, glad you found a place you can trust. I think this cheese crisp would make a great breakfast topped with eggs, bacon and peppers too! We will have to experiment :)

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    1. I love the idea of the crisps for breakfast, Marcelle! Great way to start the day!

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  20. Great add to a sometimes predictable dish! Hmmm, I just bought some shrimp...

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    1. Did you see them in Tempe/Phoenix when you were visiting your daughter? We made them with leftover braised short ribs the other day for lunch. Perfect!

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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