A recipe for fajitas with a side of history

Published 16 Jul, 2021 10:41am

The dish is a fusion of Mexican and American food.

I write this article with a heavy heart. The person who compelled me to start writing here two years ago, is no longer with us. Moniza Inam was a close friend of mine. We knew each other since the mid-80s when we interned together at the Business Recorder, Karachi. We were very supportive of each other all these years. I feel her loss greatly, but instead of dwelling on the sadness of her passing away, I am going to share a lovely memory of her.

We both loved food and cooked for each other when I would visit Karachi. Sometimes we went out and, on one such evening at a restaurant, her eyes opened wide when the server brought her a plate of sizzling fajitas that she had ordered. She absolutely loved this dish. So, I am going to dedicate this recipe to her, while I share with you the history of, and a recipe for, fajitas. By cooking one of her favourite foods, you can extend my memory of her and become part of it. In that way, she lives on with us, with her cheerful smile.

If you are not already familiar, fajitas are stripped, grilled meat with bell peppers and onions, and served on tortillas, made of flour or corn. You could use any meat, including chicken and beef. The word fajita is Spanish and is derived from the word faja, which means belt or girdle. Fajitas are a Tex-Mex dish that came about after Mexican workers in the 1940s, on the border between Mexico and Texas along the Rio Grande, were given meat in partial payment for their labour. This meat, commonly known as skirt steak, was not the best part of an animal, but the workers learned to make good use of it, and thus fajitas were born.

And what do we know of the Tex-Mex historical and geographical aspects? The term Tex-Mex usually is ascribed to food that is a fusion of Mexican, Spanish, and American, specifically from the US states along the Mexican and the US border. This term, which evolved around the 1940s, only gained popularity from the 1970s onwards. This cuisine is influenced by the culture of the Tejanos, who are the Spanish-speaking residents of Texas, originally from Tejas, Coahuila, and the states in northern Mexico.

Typically, the term Tejano was used to describe various settlers in the region of what is now the US. The Spanish colonialists who inhabited the current state of Texas from 1716, were also known as Tejano. Texas was then part of New Spain and, after 1821, when the Spanish relinquished control because of the Mexican Independence movement, it became part of Mexico.

Perfect for a quick weeknight dinner, this chicken fajitas recipe made with marinated chicken in tortilla wraps is mouth-watering

In 1846, Mexico lost Texas to the US in the American-Mexican war. However, Mexican culture remains in the region, although the food is now a fusion of American and Mexican cuisines. One of the discerning factors between Mexican and Tex-Mex food is that the latter uses yellow cheese, whereas yellow cheese is not that popular in Mexican food. Other ingredients not popular in Mexico are beef, wheat flour, black beans, and canned vegetables (especially tomatoes), but these ingredients dominate Tex-Mex cuisine. Currently, Tex-Mex food is extremely popular and can now be found in most US states.

I hope you have enjoyed, as much as I did, learning a bit of the history of fajitas and the regions from where the dish originated. Now it is time for a recipe:

Ingredients

3 chicken breast pieces, each sliced into halves, horizontally
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper powder
2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
A cup of cilantro, chopped
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 of any coloured bell (capsicum) peppers, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
Juice of half a lime
3 tablespoons olive or any other oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 thick-bottomed pan or cast iron pan

Preparation

Mix the cumin, red chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, fresh garlic, cilantro, salt and black pepper powder in a bowl. Poke the chicken pieces with a fork in several places, and then coat them with this spice and herb mix. Set them in a dish and leave to marinate for an hour in the refrigerator.

Bring it out of the refrigerator, and heat 2.5 tablespoons of oil in a pan, on medium flame. Place the chicken in the pan and cook each side for 3-4 minutes, or until you think they are fully cooked. Remove them from pan and place on a plate. Now add the remaining oil to the pan, toss the bell peppers and onion in, and sauté for a few minutes.

Slice the chicken horizontally or at a slight angle, into strips of an inch or less and place the salted peppers and onions on top. Pour lemon juice over all of it. You can add cheese or salsa if you like. Serve with soft tortillas or rotis.

Originally published in Dawn, EOS, July 11th, 2021

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