When I started cooking in college, my repertoire was limited to grilled cheese, spaghetti with jarred marinara sauce, and chicken fajitas. Fajitas with grilled chicken, brown onions and red and yellow peppers were practically a weekly staple and the dish I entertained with most often. I knew how to make them and I stuck with it for years.
Nowadays I prefer grilled steak, red onions, and green peppers. I also add lots of lime, some chile powder for a kick, and loads of guacamole. But watch out: all these components can require a bit of prep and clear your cupboards of its serving bowls.
A history lesson: When we got married, our first apartment didn't have a dishwasher. Andrew was saddled with this chore most nights, and finally threw up his hands and said that he didn't like fajitas. What? What do you mean you don't like fajitas? I asked. I knew he loved them as much as I did, but it turned out the dishwashing was getting the better of him. You see, I used to cook everything and put each component in separate bowls so we could serve ourselves buffet-style. I soon realized it was much easier to keep everything in the pans they cooked in, grate cheese on disposable foil or parchment paper, and that it was ok to point everyone toward the stove to fill their plates. You can present the food how you wish, but in my experience, the fewer bowls the better. Consider yourself warned.
STEAK FAJITAS WITH CILANTRO SOUR CREAM
The beauty of fajitas is that formal recipes aren't required. Meat, peppers, onions, and some creamy toppings. You can marinate the meat with whatever you like, and serve it with any combination of festive garnishes. The choices below are some of my personal favorites, but think of them as a guideline to help you discover your own style.
Serves 4 to 6
1 1/2 pounds flank steak
Juice from two limes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Freshly ground pepper
1 large red onion, sliced
2 green peppers, sliced
Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, for serving
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Cilantro Sour Cream (recipe follows)
Guacamole (recipe follows)
Tortillas, for serving
In a shallow dish, combine the juice from one lime, 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, chile powder, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Add steak and massage the marinade into the meat with your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
Turn the oven to 250 degrees. In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers, and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked through but still slightly firm. Turn off heat and place in the oven to keep warm.
Heat a cast iron pan to medium-high. Add the steak, and cook on one side for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat no longer sticks to the pan and is golden brown. Cook on the other side for about 3 minutes more, or until the steak is cooked to medium. With tongs, transfer the steak to a plastic cutting board and cover with foil for 10 minutes. Slice very thinly, then add the steak to the pan with the onions and peppers.
While the steak rests, make the guacamole and cilantro sour cream. For the guacamole, mash 2 ripe avocados with salt, the juice of half a lime, and 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro. Taste for seasonings.
To 1/2 cup light sour cream, add 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, juice from one lime, and salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings.
To serve, warm tortillas in the microwave or over a gas burner. Add meat, peppers and onions, and top with cheese, guacamole and sour cream.