Thursday, February 21, 2008

For the "Cooking Challenged"- Fajitas

Yesterday I was talking to a good friend of mine and she suggested that I may want to try to help out the "cooking challenged" by posting an easy recipe or two. Now I have to say that I have recently been very impressed with this friends new found interest in cooking, so her request is one that I’m happy to oblige.

Several years ago I was visiting my sister and we prepared fajitas for dinner one night. Fajitas, in my opinion, are one of the best things to have in ones repertoire of dishes to make. They are versatile, fun to serve and to eat, and best of all, they are incredibly simple to make. Basic fajitas should include some type of meat (usually chicken or steak), though you could go vegetarian with them and do tofu or Portobello mushroom strips, peppers, onions, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cheese. Some will add in rice as an ingredient, others beans- either whole or refried. The versatility it really up to the cook as to how complex you’d like to make them. I’ll stick with my basic concept and leave the options up to you.

I always start my fajitas by heating a non stick fry pan over medium heat and adding just a bit of vegetable oil to the bottom. Once the oil has heated through then I will add sliced onions and peppers to the pan. As you probably know peppers come in a variety of colors and flavors with equally varying levels of heat. Depending on how spicy you like your food, choose a pepper to your discretion. I have found that for no heat at all, there is nothing wrong with a nice bell pepper. As these come in green, red and yellow they can also add an appealing color to your fajitas. Once the onions have become translucent and the peppers have softened remove them from the pan and place aside in a container covered with tin foil. This will keep them warm while you cook the rest of your meal.

Without draining the oil from the pan so that all of the good flavors from the onions and peppers remain, add your meat of choice. With whatever form you choose, I would cut the pieces into strips that can be placed easily within your tortilla wrapper, but are not so big that they are the only things to fit in there. You want to be sure to leave room for the other ingredients. As you choose different meats to prepare for this dish, your cooking times will vary- thickness and doneness factors will also play a role. The one thing to note, please be sure, when you are cooking chicken to be very sure that it is cooked all the way through. Chicken can contain a lot of bacteria that must be cooked off for it to be safe to eat. For this reason, I would also be hesitant to add the chicken to anything else you may be cooking raw. For instance, if you wanted to make combo fajitas of chicken and steak, my advice would be to cook the steak first until the desired doneness, and then put in the chicken once the steak has been removed from the pan. I may be overly cautious, but Id prefer to be safe than sorry when it comes to chicken. My favorite last trick to preparing these is the one that my sister taught me many years ago. In the final stages of cooking, I like to add about half the jar of salsa to the pan with the meat. This infuses the meat with a little of the spice from the salsa, and creates a nice sauce for your fajitas. What would they be if not messy?

Once that is complete, you are basically ready to go. All you need to do at that point is set your table with the remaining salsa, sour cream, guacamole if you choose, and cheese. The vegetables and meats can be served in the same serving dish on the table. The only final trick I have is for the tortillas. A cold tortilla is no fun at all- I prefer to stack these in tinfoil, separating each with a damp paper towel and then placing them into a warm oven (approximately 250 degrees) for about 10 minutes, or until the rest of the meal is prepared. The damp paper towels add the moisture needed to keep the tortillas from drying out in the oven, and you are left with soft pliable shells for your fajitas.

As I was saying earlier, fajitas are a fantastic meal to prepare because of their versatility. To the base of the recipe you can easily add cilantro to the pan with your onions and peppers to give them a more authentic feel, and you can turn up the heat a bit with the addition of a Serrano, or jalapeƱo pepper. Plain white rice could be heated, or even yellow rice for an authentic feel if you decided. These are really a delicious meal that are entirely controlled by the cook. You have the ability to make them as easy or as intricate as you choose, and no matter what you do, people will be excited by your creativity.


Anonymous said...

yaaaaaa!!!! thanks for the post fiona! easy and fun, I love it.

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