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Family Recipes: Chicken Quesadillas

Liz Falkowski
James Lindsay and his family have been making chicken quesadillas since he was 14. His recipe includes more homemade, healthy ingredients.

James Lindsay's family recipe of chicken quesadillas began with a teenage interest in health.

“When I was 14 … I was looking inside of Muscle and Fitness [magazine] and they had a great recipe for chicken quesadillas,” he recalls. Lindsay showed the recipe to his mom, she helped him prepare it and they’ve been making it ever since.

Lindsay came of age during the '80s, when health and fitness ideas started to captivate the public. But while most people were watching exercise videos, Lindsay says his family was the biggest influence on his lifestyle. 

“My dad was into fitness and … my mom, she was a real avid person about taking vitamins,” he recalls.

But as a teenager Lindsay says it wasn’t always easy to adhere to his family’s healthy ways — especially when his friends were eating Cheetos and Doritos. Though, as an adult, Lindsay recognizes the importance of taking the long view when it comes to eating habits.

“People, they’re not looking at the big picture. We have one life and if we put garbage in, we gonna get garbage out,” he says.

"We have one life and if we put garbage in, we gonna get garbage out."

He eventually opened his own restaurant, Hoops Carry Out. It was open for almost seven years. Lindsay now works for a veterans services organization, but he still finds satisfaction in cooking for friends and family.

He transforms comfort food classics into healthful, delicious meals. His quesadillas feature lightly seasoned chicken breasts, garden-fresh salsa, and tortillas toasted with spray oil to control the amount used. But when he craves a little something extra, Lindsay isn’t averse to a dollop of sour cream.

Credit Liz Falkowski

“We can make things that are bad, not so bad,” he says.

For Lindsay, this means being mindful about the food you eat. He recommends cooking your meals at home when you can.

“It’s always best to prepare it in your kitchen, because you know what’s going into it versus preservatives and just all the other stuff that you can’t really pronounce,” he says.

James Lindsay's Chicken Quesadillas


  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups salsa* (below is a recipe to make your own salsa)
  • 1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 pound provolone cheese
  • 1 package of tortillas (flour or corn)

Step 1: Tenderize the chicken breasts and then grill in a hot pan (spray pan with cooking oil) for about 5-7 minutes on each side (depending on the thickness of your chicken breasts). Once fully cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and place it on a cutting board to rest.

Credit Liz Falkowski
James Lindsay julienne slices the chicken breast at an angle so that they lay evenly on the tortilla.

Step 2: In a hot, oiled pan, grill two tortillas on one side until golden brown.

Step 3: Julienne slice the chicken breast at an angle and place the chicken slices in one even layer on the grilled tortilla.

Step 4: Spread an even layer of salsa over the chicken.

Step 5: Break provolone and cheddar cheese slices in half and layer on top of the salsa-covered chicken slices.

Step 6: Place second grilled tortilla over the cheese and microwave for 60 seconds. Slice and serve!

Credit Liz Falkowski
James Lindsay adds the second tortilla on top of the chicken, salsa and cheese before finishing cooking in the microwave.

*Ingredients for salsa:

  • 3 large tomatoes, cut into half inch cubes
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • Juice of 1/2 of a lime
  • 1 teaspoon garlic power
  • 1 teaspoon onion power
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well, adding 1 teaspoon of pepper to finish for seasoning.

Editor's note: Family Recipes is produced by Lucien Jung, a long time contributor to Lake Effect. In Family Recipes, Lucien visits the kitchens of Milwaukee-area residents as they prepare special family dishes they remember from childhood.

Lucien Jung is a Milwaukee-based video and radio producer. His research in the IP-based distribution of multimedia has been presented at the Broadcast Education Association’s annual conference as well as the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. Lucien is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications master’s program in Television-Radio-Film.