We really like Mexican food… or probably more accurately Mexican-American or Tex-Mex food. There is a local place that we like to eat occasionally (no, not Taco Bell, although we do eat there too) and we almost always end up getting fajitas. Fajitas are a good choice since they can be enjoyed without the tortillas which make the dish basically Gluten Free (thus making it suitable for Andrea to eat).
The funny thing about fajitas is that, technically speaking, they are made with grilled skirt steak (arracheras in Mexico) — yet we typically order our fajitas made with chicken or sometimes shrimp… and on more than one occasion we have eaten them sans any protein (i.e. vegetarian). So, although I like fajitas, I’m probably not a true fajita expert. That being said, I did discover that fajitas have only been on the food scene for the past 45 years or so — kind of nuevo cuisine in a sense.
Fajitas most likely came from a common practice during the 1800’s cattle drives down Texas way when the cowboys would butcher a steer for their dinner and offer the less desirable portions to the Mexican vaqueros who helped drive the cattle. The arrachera (or skirt steak) is a tough cut that comes from the belly of the cow and would otherwise be cast aside. The vaqueros would cook this meat seasoned with salt and chilies over the camp fire. To combat the stringy toughness of the meat they would cut it in thin strips before eating it with the usual tortillas and frijoles.
Use of the word fajitas (meaning “little strips or belts”) did not come into print — or popularity — until the 1970’s, and as a menu item it didn’t grow in popularity until the 1980’s when most every part of the country was serving them. I can remember ordering fajitas for the first time back in the early 80’s and being rather astonished, and slightly embarrassed, to have the dish come out on a noisily “sizzling” platter with a kind of mini parade of servers carrying the accompanying side dishes of rice, refried beans, tortillas, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream! Really it was quite a production, and there was hardly room enough on the table for all the dishes.
So, since today is May 5th or Cinco de Mayo — one of my favorite foodie holidays (did I mention that I love Mexican food?) — and in honor of the commemoration of the Mexican Army’s difficult victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza — I offer you my recipe for Fajitas.
Fajitas for Cinco de Mayo
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
1/2 cup Packed Cilantro Leaves
1/4 cup Lime Juice
1 TBSP Chili Powder
1 TBSP Ground Cumin
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
2 lbs Skirt Steak (or similar cut)
2 Red Bell Peppers – seeded and sliced
2 Green Bell Peppers – seeded and sliced
1 large White Onion – halved and sliced
1 medium Poblano Pepper – seeded and sliced (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Warmed Flour Tortillas for serving
Sliced Hass Avocados for serving
Pico de Gallo for serving (see recipe below)
1. For Marinade: In a blender or food processor combine the cilantro, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and salt. Process until smooth adding a little water if needed.
2. Pour marinade in a resealable plastic bag, add the steak and turn to coat. Refrigerate until ready to use (about 30 minutes).
3. Make pico de gallo following the recipe below and refrigerate until needed.
4. Preheat a large grill pan or cast iron skillet over med-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, grill sliced peppers and onions until slightly charred and just crisp-tender. Place cooked vegetables on a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
5. Remove steak from marinade and shake off excess. Using the same grill pan on med-high heat, grill the steak to desired doneness (about 3-5 minutes per side for medium rare). Remove steak to platter and allow to rest before slicing across the grain into thin strips.
6. To serve, place peppers and onions on tortilla, layer with steak strips, avocado, and pico de gallo. (Additional toppings may include lettuce, cheese, sour cream, etc.)
Quick Pico de Gallo
2 medium Firm, Ripe Tomatoes – seeded & finely diced
1/3 cup Cilantro – chopped
1/4 cup White Onion – finely diced
1 small fresh Jalapeño – seeded & finely diced
2 TBSP Lime Juice – or to taste
1/2 tsp Salt – or to taste
Directions: Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and allow to marinate 30 minutes.
There you have it, my take on the traditional skirt steak fajitas. The marinade works equally as well on chicken, shrimp, or pork loin. Just adjust cooking times accordingly and use a thermometer to be sure the meat is cooked properly. I only featured a few toppings in this recipe since I wanted the meat to be the star — but feel free to use whatever your family likes. Although I think the pico de gallo is a must have. I also like to serve fajitas with yellow rice and pinto beans on the side. I hope you enjoyed Cinco de Mayo today and I hope you think to make fajitas again during the summer grilling season.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”