Korean Beef Bulgogi + Burritos = The Ultimate Odd Couple

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[Photographs: Emily and Matt Clifton]

It should go without saying that food must, at the very least, taste good. That's the low bar. If you can also make it a riot of colors, so much the better. And that's a pretty impressive feat when your main ingredient is the drab brown color of cooked beef—because it is cooked beef. We think our Korean-style beef bulgogi burritos accomplish this admirably.

Bulgogi ("fire meat" in Korean) is beef that's thinly sliced, marinated, and quickly seared. It's usually made with pricey ribeye, but you can also use English-cut boneless short ribs (our favorite) or sirloin. If you're slicing the beef yourself, you'll want it as thin as you can get it; an eighth of an inch or less is ideal. Using a very sharp knife is essential, and make sure to slice against the grain of the meat, which shortens the muscle fibers and makes the meat more tender.

Ribeye is very tender by nature, but if you're using short ribs or sirloin instead, the meat will need to be tenderized while it's marinating. A common way to do that is to add a little grated Asian pear to the mix, which contains the tenderizing enzyme calpain. In a pinch, if you can't find Asian pears, you can also use a little pineapple juice. If you do that, though, don't marinate the beef for more than a couple of hours, since the pineapple juice's stronger enzymatic action will eventually turn the meat mushy.

Classic bulgogi is marinated in a mixture of mostly soy sauce, with sugar and flavorings added; garlic, onion, and ginger are all common. It's then pan-fried or grilled and served with lettuce leaves, which are used to wrap up the beef into little edible packages. We've taken all those flavors and substituted a burrito wrap for the lettuce, making the bulgogi into a wrap that's perfect for either a sit-down dinner or a meal on the go.

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The other recipe we've included here is for pickled daikon radish (danmuji). The delightful yellow color comes from turmeric in the pickle brine. You can—and should—make this a few days ahead of the burritos to allow the pickle to fully develop. You'll often find this pickle sliced in thin rounds, but we chose to slice the radish lengthwise so that it would fit snugly into the wrap with the other ingredients and not fall out while you're biting into it. It'll keep in the refrigerator for at least a month.

We also fold some store-bought kimchi into the burrito, though, if you make your own, we salute you! All the other ingredients for the burritos are raw: shredded red cabbage, cilantro (not traditional with bulgogi, but delicious here nonetheless), scallions, limes for squeezing, and, finally, a little sour cream mixed with spicy gochujang paste. Honestly, anything you like in a typical burrito would probably be great in this, from avocado to pickled red onions and shredded lettuce.

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We recommend extra-large (12-inch) flour tortillas that have been softened in a low oven between sheets of damp paper towel. Initially, we tried using standard 10-inch tortillas, but they just weren't big enough to pack in all our bulgogi goodies. You can layer the rice pretty thinly, since it's really acting as a sushi-roll-like wall for the other contents to nestle into.

The recipe we've put together should fill three or four quite large burritos, and, of course, you can slice them in half, as pictured here, to make a lighter meal for more mouths. If you've made too much for one sitting, these can be reheated; just wrap them in foil and place in a 325°F (163°C) oven for about 20 minutes.

And there you have it. All the flavors of bulgogi, all the convenience of a burrito, all (well, most of) the colors of the rainbow. There's nothing wrong with a little excess every now and again.

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