This is a fajita recipe that does not involve using fajita mix, jarred salsa, or yellow cheese, otherwise known as the three sins of Mexican cooking. It’s fresh, light, homemade, and it allows you to put an authentic Mexican spin on the a dish that is usually very Tex-Mex. It does require a little prepping in advance, but if you put the work in, you will get nothing but goodness in return.
For those of you who don’t know what a fajita is, it’s mash-up of marinated meat and veggies, quickly sautéed and traditionally served at the table in a sizzling skillet. I started mine off with chicken breasts marinated in a zesty blend of garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, and the magic ingredient of the evening, tequila. Marinating chicken with liquor is actually quite a clever idea because the alcohol allows the chicken to remain moist and juicy when it’s cooked.
Fajitas typically come with pico de gallo, which literally translates to “rooster’s bite” in English. True enough, this salsa is full of red tomatoes and piquant from the green jalapenos. Since my chicken had a really green marinade though, I wanted to change things up and make a green salsa to go along with it. Salsa Verde is a tangy blend made from a base of tomatillos, jalapenos, and cilantro. Sure, you could be lame and buy it jarred, but after reading some writings from Mexican food expert Rick Bayless, I have learned that throwing in some epazote, a wild, weedy-type herb which grows rampant across Central America, Mexico, and in the backyards of the US, adds a whole new dimension to the salsa. It has a very pungent aroma and when cooked, it lends a sort of grassy taste. Traditionally paired with black beans in Mexico, Rick Bayless loves it with tomatillos as well, so when I added some into my salsa, I was not disappointed.
Assembled in a hybrid-corn tortilla with some quickly grilled peppers and crumbled queso fresco (a Mexican farmer’s cheese) on top, these fajitas are bound to be better than those served at your local “Mexican” restaurant.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small handful fresh cilantro leaves
- 1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced with the seeds
- zest and juice of 1 lime
- 1/4 cup tequila
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 pounds tomatillos
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 2 jalapenos with the seeds
- 1 teaspoon dried epazote leaves
- 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
- salt to taste
- 1 bell pepper, sliced
- 1 red onion, silvered
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt to taste
- tortillas, preferably a hybrid blend of corn and flour, but flour tortillas would be just fine too
- crumbled queso fresco
For the Chicken: In a large bowl combine the garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, lime zest, tequila, vegetable oil, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Add the chicken breasts and toss to coat evenly. Marinate in the fridge overnight. Then preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the chicken for 30 minutes, turning over half way through, until it is cooked and the juices run clear. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes and then slice into strips.
For the Salsa Verde: Remove the husks from the tomatillos and boil them with the jalapenos in water for 15-20 minutes, till they are soft and tender. In a large saucepan, heat some oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it has softened, 5 minutes. Add the epazote and garlic and stir until aromatic and fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Then add the boiled tomatillos and jalapenos. Using an immersion blender, blend the salsa till it is smooth and flowing. Then simmer the pureed salsa over low heat for about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and add the cilantro. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before transferring it to the fridge.
For the Veggies: Heat some vegetable oil in a wok over high heat. Then add the onions and bell peppers. Stir until softened, about 5 minutes. Then add the cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook for another 5 minutes and then remove from the heat.
For Assembly: Warm the tortillas in the microwave for about 30 seconds or so. Then take a warm tortilla and place some chicken, salsa, and veggies in it. Top with queso fresco and put the fajita into your mouth. Eat and enjoy!
- You can find dried epazote in the Mexican aisle of most grocery stores. To get fresh epazote you may want to try a Mexican grocer.
- Queso Fresco is a Mexican farmer’s cheese which has a salty and milky flavor. It crumbles just like feta. You can find it with most other Mexican cheeses in the dairy section of your grocery stores. If for some reason you can’t get it, try using any other farmer’s cheese, feta, or ricotta salata.