Fajitas are surprisingly easy to make, especially if you use a pre-made fajita seasoning or some other Mexican seasoning blend. I use red onions because I like the way they add even more color to the dish, but if you have yellow or white onions, no problem, use them. For more color, use two different color peppers. And don’t shy away from a tiny bit of sugar, which just enhances the caramelization of the vegetables. If you want a little more heat, you could either use two jalapenos or stick with one but leave some of the seeds in (that’s where almost all of the heat is in a hot pepper).
Tempting though it might be, don’t skip the part where you warm your tortillas in the pan. This adds flavor, those nice brown spots bringing out a toasty wheat taste, and also makes the tortillas more pliable. It takes only a few minutes, and I think it makes the meal. If you want to toast them before cooking the meat, that’s also a fine order of events — then you might want to heat them for about 20 seconds in the microwave once the meat is cooked up.
Multiply the recipe as needed, but don’t crowd the pan when cooking the vegetables and meat — especially the meat, which needs to brown as it cooks. Cook the meat in batches.
If you want to make this meal just that much more special and restaurant-like, pick up more than one kind of salsa — maybe a green tomatillo version and a tomato-based red-style jar. And go to town with the rest of the toppings; assembling the perfect fajita is part of the pleasure of this meal.
Start to finish: 45 minutes
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
2 red onions, halved and sliced
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pound fajita-sliced beef strips
1 tablespoon taco, fajita or Mexican seasoning blend
1 lime, halved
10 6-inch flour tortillas
To serve (pick and choose):
Salsa (maybe more than one!)
Crumbled queso fresco, or another white, crumbly Mexican cheese (feta works too, in a pinch!), or shredded Mexican-blend cheese
Fresh cilantro leaves
Avocado slices or guacamole
In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, and jalapeno, sprinkle the sugar over them, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes until fairly tender. Remove all the cooked vegetables to one half of a serving platter.
Return the pan to medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the beef strips, sprinkle with the seasoning, and saute for 5 minutes, until the beef is cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the beef to the other half of the serving platter. Tent with foil to keep warm.
Carefully clean the hot pan and return it to medium-high heat. Make sure the pan is clean and dry before warming the tortillas, one at a time, for 15 to 20 seconds on each side until browned in spots and slightly fragrant. Transfer the tortillas to a plate as they are warmed, and keep them covered with a clean dishtowel to keep them warm.
Remove the foil and dishtowel, and squeeze the juice of the lime halves over the meat and the vegetables. Serve the beef and vegetables with the tortillas and assorted toppings, and let everyone fill their own fajitas.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.”
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