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Cookin' With Carol: A Fajita Feast!

May 12, 2015 03:48PM ● Published by Kevin

When the barbecue grill is working overtime for burgers, steaks and summertime brats, consider another tasty option: the fajita, a true Tex-Mex specialty. Traditionally made using grilled marinated steak and wrapped in tortillas, fajitas are also delicious using grilled chicken or shrimp. Grilling is essential for preparing the fajita filling (preferably using mesquite wood). A chile-and-cumin marinade, mesquite grilling and cooked peppers and onions all contribute to the unique flavor of the fajita. My Grilled Chicken, Steak or Shrimp Fajitas (see below for the recipe) lets you decide the filling.

While these flavors easily define a tempting Tex-Mex fajita, the dinner plate would not be complete without some “fixins” to go with the meal. Many popular accompaniments enhance the fajita experience and add fantastic Southwest flavors to this favorite Tex-Mex fare.

Guacamole

Avocados play an important role in a healthful diet, and mashing the creamy, green flesh with 2 cloves minced garlic, juice from 1 lime and a pinch of salt and chili powder (to taste) really spices things up. This simple guacamole is great with fajitas, inside (the tortilla) or out. Dress it up to your liking by adding chopped tomato, red bell pepper, onion, jalapeño or cilantro. A couple teaspoons of mayonnaise adds additional creamy richness.

Here are tips for preparing avocados: To remove the pit, cut the avocado in half lengthwise, around the pit. Twist the halves in opposite directions and pull apart. Cut each half in half again, remove the pit, and peel away the skin. Reserve the pit and place it in the guacamole to help keep the avocado from turning brown.

Pico de Gallo

This chopped fresh vegetable relish often accompanies a Tex-Mex meal. Pico de gallo is Spanish for “rooster’s beak.” It is often thought that the pecking motion with fingers to eat this popular condiment is the reason for its name. Combine finely chopped tomatoes, onion, jalapeño chile pepper and cilantro with salt and pepper to taste and add the juice from 1 lime. Chill before serving.

The traditional Mexican pico de gallo is made with chopped jicama, oranges and cilantro. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of ground cayenne pepper and the juice from 1 lime for a refreshing side salad treat.

Chile con Queso

Spanish for “chile with cheese,” chile con queso is a melted cheese and chopped vegetable (including chile pepper) combination that is often served with chips. It adds a creamy cheese richness to steak or chicken fajitas. A smooth-melting cheese, such as processed cheese (Velveeta) or cream cheese is usually used to make queso. Monterey Jack can be added for additional flavor. Simply add finely chopped bell peppers (any color), onion, tomato and green chiles to a slow-simmering saucepan full of melted cheese for a great appetizer or creamy condiment.

Salsa

Salsa comes in many forms and flavors, and it is easy to stir-up your own favorite version at home. From a bright red fresh tomato salsa to a green tomatillo salsa (salsa verde), the common ingredients are chopped and/or puréed tomatoes (or tomatillos), onions, chile peppers and cilantro. A pinch of salt, a minced clove of garlic and a tiny bit of fresh lime juice add to the flavor.

Add variety with corn, chopped cucumber or celery, red onion, roasted jalapeño peppers or cooked black beans. Fresh fruit can join the fun, as well. Add chopped peaches or mango for a twist. Salsa always adds a spicy bite for every Tex-Mex meal.

Refried Beans

Beans are often served for Southwest dining. Pinto beans and black beans are common for recipes such as refried beans (frijoles refritos) or Tex-Mex beans. The difference between the two is mostly the texture and consistency of the finished product, however, like salsa and queso, adding variety in the ingredients will offer different flavors.

Using precooked (canned) beans saves time, but for traditional preparation and best flavor, refried beans should be made from scratch. One pound of dry pinto beans (or black beans) will make enough refried beans to serve eight to twelve people (depending on portions), or will provide enough for many meals throughout a week - burritos, tacos, nachos, tostadas - for two to four people.

Here’s what to do: Using a colander (or strainer), sort through the dry beans carefully, removing any loose skins, shriveled beans, or - believe it or not - small stones. This is very important! Soak the beans in cold water for at least 3 hours (or let the beans soak in water overnight). Drain the soaking water and rinse the beans under cold water to wash the beans well. Place the beans in a large stockpot and add 7 cups of water, 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoon chili powder. Cook the beans over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add 3 tablespoons bacon fat (you’ll need to cook and enjoy a few slices of bacon while the beans are cooking!), 1 teaspoon salt, 1 finely chopped onion and 2 beef bouillon cubes, and cook for an additional 1 1/2 hours on low heat. Add more water if the liquid drops below the beans and they begin to appear dry.

For Tex-Mex beans, at this point, add chopped tomato and jalapeño pepper, 1 cup beer (a good Texas or Mexican beer would be appropriate!), a pinch of ground cayenne pepper (and black pepper to taste, if desired) and a half teaspoon of liquid smoke. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking and serve as a side for a fajita feast.

For refried beans, no additional ingredients are required. After the beans have cooked for 3 hours, using a potato masher, simply mash the beans in the stockpot to the desired consistency. The beans are ready to serve at this point, however, for a traditional “refried beans” service, melt a bit of bacon fat in a skillet and warm some of the mashed beans in the drippings. To cut down on fats, add more seasoning (cumin, garlic, chili powder, pepper) and less bacon fat (or none at all). Beans are not commonly served in fajitas, however, they certainly could be, and they always add variety as a common Tex-Mex side dish. 

Spanish Rice

Another common side dish for any Southwest meal involves rice. Spanish rice combines chopped green bell pepper and onion with long grain rice, simmering in a saucepan of bacon drippings. Chopped tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, salt, chili powder, pepper and hot pepper sauce add to the flavor. Crumbled bacon and shredded cheese top the dish for a flavorful side dish.

A similar, simple side dish—one I like to call “Tex-Mex Rice”— is quick to prepare: Rinse 1 cup long grain rice in a strainer under cold water. Place the strainer in/over a bowl and fill with water to cover the rice by one inch. Let the rice soak for 15 minutes. Drain away the water and allow rice to stand for 5 minutes. Combine 1 peeled, seeded and chopped tomato with 1 peeled and chopped onion, 1/2 dried Anaheim chile pepper and 1 minced clove of garlic in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until smooth, about 1 minute, and reserve. Heat 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan and add the rice, cooking over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes and stirring occasionally. Add the reserved tomato mixture and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 3/4 cups chicken broth, 1/2 cup frozen peas (and/or finely diced carrots), 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, until the rice is tender and ready to serve. 

More Fajita Ideas

Other ideas for fajita options include smoked sausage, pork tenderloin or fish, such as tuna or shark steaks. Place your choice of meat in a fajita marinade and allow to marinate and chill in the refrigerator for 1 to 4 hours (do not marinate seafood for longer than 30 minutes). Grill to desired doneness and enjoy with traditional fajita toppings, wrapped in flour tortillas.

For a different twist, serve fajita flavors on a homemade pizza. My favorite is a chicken fajita pizza, simply substituting salsa for pizza sauce, and topping with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, slices of grilled chicken fajita meat, sliced bell peppers, sliced onions, thinly sliced Roma tomatoes and chopped serrano chile peppers. Lightly sprinkle chili powder around the perimeter of the prepared pizza dough (the exposed crust when baked) and when topped with fajita ingredients, bake in a preheated 450°F oven for 15 to 17 minutes, until crust is golden and the cheese is melted. 

A Fajita Feast

The simplicity of a grilled meat fajita is easily enhanced with a few Tex-Mex side dish specialties. Adding beans and rice or guacamole and pico de gallo to a fajita feast completes the meal and offers many flavors to add inside the tortilla, or as something spicy on the side. Or flip the fajita to something completely different—like a Southwest pizza—with the flavors you enjoy. Fire-up the grill, marinate some meat, and load-up the table with fancy fixins for a summer fajita feast! 

Grilled Chicken, Steak or Shrimp Fajitas

By Carol Ritchie – Host of Cookin’ with Carol 

Fajita Marinade:

¼ cup fresh lime juice

1 tbs vegetable oil

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander seeds

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp hot pepper sauce

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced 


4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or 1 ½ lbs flank or skirt steak, or 1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined)

1 tbs vegetable oil

2 bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced

1 lime, cut into wedges

8 flour tortillas, warmed

Directions

Combine marinade ingredients in a glass or stainless-steel bowl, or in a large zip-top plastic bag. Place chicken (or steak) in the marinade and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 24 hours). (For shrimp, marinate for 10 minutes, or no longer than 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Soak 4 wooden skewers in cold water while shrimp is marinating.) Turn the chicken/steak in the marinade occasionally. Remove chicken/steak from marinade and pat dry with paper towels to remove excess marinade. (Thread marinated shrimp on the skewers.) Grill chicken/steak/shrimp over hot coals (medium-high heat on a stove-top grill) until done (chicken: 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until no longer pink in the middle; beef: 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium-well, or to taste; shrimp: 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until opaque through the center). Let the chicken (or steak or shrimp) cool slightly. Cut chicken (or steak) across the grain into thin slices. Heat oil in a skillet and sauté bell peppers and onions until tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. For traditional service, heat a cast-iron skillet and when hot, add a few drops of vegetable oil and the grilled chicken (or steak or shrimp). Turn off the heat, add cooked onions and bell peppers, and bring the skillet to the table (place it on a trivet). Squeeze lime wedges over the fajita filling and listen to the sizzle! Fill warm flour tortillas with fajita filling and serve with your choice of toppings, such as chopped tomatoes, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, or salsa.

Written by Carol Ritchie of Cookin' With Carol

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