Fajitas in Houston, like all truly great regional cuisine, leave me silently swearing that food could not be better. Tantalizingly smoky, addictively salty, the strips of chicken and steak go down easy and are the perfect fuel—for a nap.
This defanged version of chicken fajitas isn’t meant to compete with the Ninfa’s or Lupe’s or whatever is currently considered the city’s best Tex-Mex. But my version is kid-pleasing, Houston-bred-husband-approved, and hearty enough to power me through a 6-mile afternoon hike without scrounging for leftover Halloween candy in my vest pockets.
For dinner, I’d make these heartier by adding rice and beans. —Melissa
Time: 30 minutes
For the chicken filling:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds (about 3 whole) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (organic, if possible)
2 tablespoons safflower, sunflower, or other vegetable oil
1 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
For the fixings:
hot sauce or salsa
1 avocado, diced
an herb or green of some sort: sliced Romaine, cilantro, sliced cabbage, or whatever you have on hand
I use a stainless steel pan to make these. If you use a non-stick pan, skip the scraping instruction, below. Also with a non-stick, you should have enough liquid in the pan to skip the “add water” step, too.
Mix the spices together.
Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise into strips 2- to 3-inch long and less than an inch wide. Cut the thicker slices, from the biggest part of the breast, in half.
Heat a big frying pan (I use a 5-quart sauté pan) over high heat for a minute, add the oil and heat for another minute. Scatter the peppers in the pan, add a pinch of salt, stir, and let them cook undisturbed until they start to brown and even blister, 2 to 3 minutes.
Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring every minute, until the peppers bend when you stir, 5 to 7 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high, add the chicken and then the spices and stir to evenly distribute the spice mix and so the chicken doesn’t stick to the pan. Keep stirring every so often, scraping the spices off the pan. When the chicken is no longer pink in the center, after 6 to 7 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of water to the pan, raise the heat to high, and scrape up any spices stuck to the pan. Transfer the chicken to a serving bowl.
Warm the tortillas in the microwave (flick each with a few drops of water, wrap a few in a damp paper towel, and microwave for 20 seconds) or toast one at a time in a hot cast iron pan. Wrap the warmed tortillas in a cloth napkin or dry dishtowel to keep them warm.
To eat, spoon a few pieces of chicken and peppers into warmed tortillas and top with the greens, hot sauce, and avocado.
Make ahead: You can mix the spices, and slice the peppers and chicken up to two days ahead. I’d bet the chicken tastes great as leftovers, but we’ve never had any.