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Monday, February 22, 2010

Cheap, Fast, Delicious Fried Cheese Appetizer

This photo of the fried queso fresco does not do the dish justice. It is a delicious crispy treat made even better by the homemade salsa we served with it.

On Super Bowl Sunday, we were still pretty much snowed in, with little inclination to go out and forage for snacks. But we did have half a round of queso fresco, the white cheese that's often crumbled on Mexican dishes. Remembering that you can make a fine appetizer simply by grating parmesan onto a nonstick pan, we wondered if we could do a similar thing with wet but firm queso fresco.

So we cut the cheese into quarter-inch slices, carefully placed it on a nonstick griddle, turned the heat up to medium-high, and watched: After just a few minutes, the cheese had released its liquid and browned on one side. A few minutes on the other side completed the cooking process.

Good so far, but the appetizer needed a garnish. Salsa, for example.

Unfortunately, the cupboard was bare, and we remained disinclined to venture into the frozen streets to search for a jar, particularly on the biggest salsa day of the year. We did have half a can of crushed tomatoes and a leftover roasted red pepper. Along with a chopped jalapeno and a couple of sliced scallions, lime juice, cumin, cilantro, and chili powder, this made a fine improvisation—and tasted great on the hot fried cheese. Not the best salsa we've ever made — mainly because diced tomatoes would have been better than crushed — but excellent in a pinch.

If you can't find queso fresco at your supermarket, Costco usually carries it. Or you can find it at any Hispanic market. It freezes well and also makes a good quesadilla filling mixed with cheddar or Monterey Jack.

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