(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

I always try to have a bag of baby spinach in the fridge at all times. It's versatile enough to throw into soups, sauté into a side dish, or toss in a morning smoothie since it's so mild in flavor. My latest use for spinach? Stuffed into quesadillas, adding a much-needed dose of green vegetables to a normally cheese- and meat-heavy dish.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Throwing uncooked spinach right in the quesadilla would turn the whole thing into a watery mess, not to mention be unwieldy as you try to stuff the leaves inside, so I do the extra step of sautéeing the spinach down and squeezing any liquid out first. Luckily, this step can be done a day or two ahead if you'd like, so all that's left is assembling and cooking the quesadillas.

Besides the mandatory cheese, vegetarian refried beans also go into these quesadillas; this is a great way to use up that can lurking in your pantry. Black or pinto refried beans will work — they actually help anchor the shredded cheese when you're putting them together. Make a batch of these quesadillas and just heat them up in the toaster oven at work for a crispy and filling lunch!

Spinach and Refried Bean Quesadillas

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (5- to 6-ounce) bag baby spinach
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Salt
4 large (9- to 10-inch) flour tortillas
1 cup vegetarian refried beans
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese or Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese blend
Optional toppings: Salsa, guacamole, sour cream, Mexican hot sauce

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (at least 10 inches) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the spinach and garlic and cook, stirring often, until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the chili powder, season lightly with salt, and cook until all the visible liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes more. Transfer the spinach to a fine-mesh strainer and use the back of a wooden spoon or a ladle to press out as much liquid as possible; set the spinach aside.

Assemble the quesadillas: Place the tortillas on a work surface. Spread 1/4 cup of the beans over half of each tortilla. Divide the cheese over the beans, pressing the cheese gently into the beans. Divide the spinach over the cheese. Fold each tortilla in half so the empty side covers the filling.

Wipe out the frying pan with paper towels and place back over medium heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Add 2 of the quesadillas and cook until golden-brown on the outside and the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a cutting board and repeat with the remaining quesadillas. Cut the quesadillas into wedges and serve with toppings.

Recipe Notes

  • Tortillas: Instead of regular flour tortillas, you can also use whole-wheat tortillas instead.
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