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I have spent many, hungry nights reminiscing about the mouth-watering Mexican food I used to binge on back in college. Weekend rituals involved scrambling to find a ride from campus into town, where we would set up shop at El Azteca in Poughkeepsie, NY with a couple of steak quesadillas. I sometimes daydream about sneaking away Upstate for lunch, but unfortunately, a two-hour train ride just isn’t in the cards for me during the work week. That’s why I needed a quesadilla recipe that would hit all the right notes and satisfy my craving, any time it hits. Plus, who in their right mind doesn’t love meat and melted cheese jammed together into a flour tortilla sandwich?!
Now that you understand why I’m so invested in building the perfect quesadilla, let's break down the layers. I use a standard flour tortilla because it gets so perfectly golden in the pan for peak crispiness. Once you’re ready to get cheesy, I’m here to tell you that I’m team Monterey Jack. It’s got the bite of a sharp cheddar, while pairing perfectly with steak. Plus, it melts beautifully for getting that perfect cheese pull! I turn up the heat in these, since I LIVE for spicy food. (Ask my co workers; they claim their spice-tolerance has increased since I started cooking for them!) For this recipe, the steak is marinated in adobo sauce with cumin and coriander, but once cooked, you throw in more chipotle peppers for an extra kick and a hint of smoke.
Lastly, a layer of pico de gallo is my little secret to making these steak quesadillas so damn addictive. The onions and tomatoes cook just enough to mix all their delicious flavors into the cheese and steak. An important step is to discard the seeds from the tomatoes! This helps remove all the excess liquid from the tomato that would make your quesadillas soggy. (FYI, there is nothing sadder than a soggy quesadilla.)
Throwing a big party? Feel free to get ahead and cook the steak and make the pico in advance. You can even have all the ingredients prepped out so you can encourage your guests to get involved in assembling. Once they’re cooked, go crazy with a toppings station including avocado, pickled onions, cilantro and plenty of lime wedges!
Prep time 60 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Yield: Serves or Makes 4
In a shallow baking dish toss steak with adobo sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt, coriander, cumin and water. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl toss diced tomatoes, onion, cilantro and lime juice to combine. Season with salt and set aside.
Remove the steak from the refrigerator, wiping off any excess marinade and discarding it. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. Add steak and cook, flipping once, until golden brown and cooked to medium, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes, then cut against the grain into ½ inch cubes. Transfer to a bowl and mix with chipotle peppers.
Place one tortilla down on a plate or cutting board and layer with ½ cup grated cheese, ½ cup steak, ⅓ cup pico de gallo and another ½ cup cheese. Top with another tortilla. Repeat until you have 4 assembled quesadillas.
In a large skillet (big enough to fit the tortilla), heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Using a wide spatula carefully place the quesadilla in. Cook, flipping once, until golden brown and crisp, 5-6 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and repeat with the remaining oil and assembled quesadillas.
Cut each quesadilla into 4 triangles and serve with any remaining pico de gallo.