Welcome to my new favorite comfort food – K-Mex Beef Quesadillas with Avocado Crema and Pickled Radish. These bad boys are the direct result of a takeout-oriented fever dream. I’ve never been particularly reliant on fast food, but as more and more restaurants shutter in these bizarre times, I find myself craving it more and more. But luckily, I am perfectly capable of fixing my own problem. And that, everyone, is why being a competent home cook is a little like being a magician. Anything you crave is well within your capable grasp.
Living My Takeout Fantasies
Takeout is a privilege I didn’t know I had. In the midst of our strange, new normal, I have made every dinner we’ve consumed over the past two weeks. Sunny has, of course, helped me put them together, but I must admit I miss takeout quite a lot. While it is true you can still get takeout and delivery here in Canada, the demand is high and the wait times can be lengthy. And I don’t want to add to the burden when we are perfectly capable of making our own dinner. So, we’ve decided no takeout unless we’re really in a non-delicious pickle.
Since making this decision, I have found myself fantasizing about fast-food classics. Fish and chips, onion rings, spicy Thai noodles, any and everything I’ve ever had handed to me in a brown paper bag. It’s funny because we were never super reliant on takeout or delivery but you always seem to want what you don’t have. So, in this era of closed restaurants and delivery pizzas that require hours of forethought, I’ve started making my own takeout. Greasy treats designed to conjure memories of our favorite night off meals.
Capturing Cheesy Nostalgia
These K-Mex Beef Quesadillas are not an exact replica of any particular dish but they do make me think of last summer. Sunny and I would grab a few tacos from a local Mexican joint and walk them over to a nearby park to eat. It always felt like a little reprieve from everyday life, but I had no idea at the time that I would later regard it as a luxury. The world has changed so much.
Puts the “K-Mex” into K-Mex Beef Quesadillas
But enough about these bleak times, let’s talk quesadillas. So, these particular quesadillas belong to the K-Mex branch of the family tree. The cuisine is a fairly young piece of fusion. K-Mex is largely credited to Chef Roy Choi and his famous LA food truck Kogi. As the name suggests, the cuisine is dominated by a combination of Mexican and Korean flavors.
Now, I didn’t sit down and think, “Hey! Let’s make something K-Mex today.” I just more or less made my current incarnation of basic taco meat. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, I started adding gochujang to my usual taco seasoning. And because it tasted good and I just kept doing it. The gochujang gives the meat more personality, more funk. I also added a little sesame oil because I think it has so much to give. And I tempered the saltiness of the gochujang with a squeeze of honey. The rest of the seasonings are not far from a classic Old El Paso seasoning envelope…with less sodium.
Select Your Dream Cheese
Now, let’s talk cheese. I used Red Leicester on these K-Mex Beef Quesadillas because it’s the sharp cheese of choice in this household. But if you don’t have it, you can easily sub it for a sharp cheddar or a Monterey Jack. And yes, this recipe does require that you lay the cheese on. We’re trying to recreate takeout here, people. We might as well be authentic.
Bring on the Acid
After all the fatty, cheesy sauciness of the quesadillas, we need a little balance. And that balance comes in the form of pickled radish. Pickling is a great way to get more mileage out of the items in your crisper as we try to limit our grocery trips. And pickling doesn’t have to complicated. Stick to quick pickles if sterilizing and sealing jars seems like too much of a production. Just be sure to eat what you make in a sensible window of time. No cold storage for these puppies.
These pickled radishes are the best kind of quick pickle because they take less than a day to get there. Oh, and the color? Well, how can you say no to a pop of hot pink on your plate? I spiked my pickling liquid with coriander seeds and gochugaru to really lean into my K-Mex theme. If you don’t have gochugaru a dried chili flake of any nationality will do. And if you don’t have coriander seed try allspice berries or peppercorns or any whole spice. Sure, your pickle will taste different than mine but it will still taste amazing.
Time to Cool Down
And for that all-important cooling effect, we have an avocado crema. This was actually supposed to be a guacamole but I realized I lacked basic guacamole supplies. I couldn’t just pop out and grab them (we’re only shopping once a week), so I made do with what I had. I had avocado, I had lime, I had garlic, and I had yogurt. Crema, albeit an untraditional version, it was. And you know what? With a little dash of habanero hot sauce thrown in, I barely missed the jalapeno and cilantro.
Finally, I rounded out the plate with undressed shredded cabbage. What I want from the cabbage isn’t flavor – we have enough flavors flying around without adding another. I simply want something crunchy and refreshing. A bit of a palate-cleanser between bites of full-on quesadilla goodness.
So that’s everything you need to know about these K-Mex Beef Quesadillas with Pickled Radish. Sure they don’t give you the kind of night off that takeout does but they do give you the comfort that takeout does.
Stay safe and healthy, friends!Follow
K-Mex Beef Quesadillas with Pickled Radishes
- Large Cast Iron Skillet
Gochugaru Pickled Radish
- 5-6 radishes
- 1 cloves garlic minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup white wine or white vinegar
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp gochugaru
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 avocado peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 lime juiced
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
- 2-3 dashes Hot sauce I used El Yucateco green habenero hot sauce
- 1/2 tsp salt
Gochujang Taco Meat
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 454g (1 lb) extra lean or lean ground beef
- 230g (8oz) cremini mushrooms sliced
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¾ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp gochujang heaping
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ cup water
- 2-3 red chilies thinly sliced (optional)
- 10 flour tortillas I used whole wheat
- 250g (9 oz) red Leicester cheese shredded
- 1/4 head Napa cabbage shredded
For the Pickled Radish
- Slice the radishes into ⅛ of an inch thick medallions using a mandolin. Place them in a medium-sized bowl and add the garlic, bay leaf and coriander seeds. Set aside.
- Pour the water and vinegar into a small saucepan. Add the salt, sugar and gochugaru and place over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and whisk until the salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat and set the mixture aside to cool slightly.
- Once the mixture is luke warm, pour it over the radish slices and cover. Let pickle at room temperature for at least four hours.
To Make the Crema
- Place the avocado, garlic and lime juice in a medium-sized bowl. Using a fork, mash the avocado and fold in the garlic and lime juice to form a thick paste. Stir in the yogurt or sour cream, hot sauce, and salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the Taco Meat
- Pour the oil into a large cast-iron skillet and place over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the ground beef and a sprinkle of salt. Cook the meat until well browned. Transfer the meat from the pan to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Set aside.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan and organize them into an even layer on the bottom. Let cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes. Once the mushrooms are browned on one side, flip them and let cook for a minute or so more. Place the mushrooms in a bowl and set aside.
- Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the onions. Cook until just translucent and stir in the garlic. Saute until fragrant. Return the beef and mushrooms to the pan and stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt.
- In a small bowl, whisk to combine the gochujang, honey, sesame oil and water. Pour the mixture over the meat and toss to coat. Let simmer for 5 minutes before removing from the heat. Stir in the chilies and keep warm until ready to serve.
- Take a torilla and sprinkle cheese on half of it. Spoon a good amount of the taco meat over top and cover with more cheese. Fold the naked half of the tortilla over the dressed half to form a half-moon shape. Repeat with the remaining cheese, meat and tortillas.
- Wipe out the cast iron skillet and place over medium heat. Place two quesadillas in the pan at a time. Toast in the pan for 2-3 minutes a side or until golden. Use a regular spatula and an off-set spatula to keep the quesadilla close when you flip them. It will be a little messy, don't sweat it.
- Once all the tortillas are golden, arrange them on a platter and serve alongside a mountain of shredded cabbage, a bowl of the Avocado Crema and a side of the pickled radish. Enjoy with a cold beer.