Smoky Skirt Steak Fajitas

There’s no doubt that a bit of smoke in the grill can add a lot of flavor to an ordinary piece of meat. It can turn a simple skirt steak into mouthwatering fare. And if you add some veggies to the mix . . .

Smoking meat has been around a long time. Some say it started with the cavemen, who as their name suggests, lived in caves. Of course, there were no chimneys back then, so whenever a fire was built inside their abode, the smoke invariably was absorbed by meat that had been hung to dry and cure. (See related story at www.grandforksherald.com/event/article/id/239123/.)

I’m a big fan of smoking meat, fish and such. I’ve even purchased an electric smoker because of my fondness for anything “smoked.” My most recent foray into smoking was some pheasant thighs and legs, which were transformed into a delicious appetizer after soaking overnight in a kosher salt/sugar/paprika/black pepper brine followed by three to four hours in the smoker.

Here’s a tasty-looking recipe from Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe, Florida-based barbecue guru, serial cook-off champion and author of the new book “Slow Fire: The Beginner’s Guide to Barbecue” (Chronicle Books, $22.95, 176 pages) that’s sure to make just about anyone a believer in smoke — even a caveman!

Smoky Skirt Steak Fajitas
2 pounds skirt steak
2 limes, divided
Fired-Up Fajita Rub (recipe follows)
1 large red onion, halved and sliced
1 green and 1 red bell pepper, halved and sliced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
10 8-inch flour tortillas
Sour cream, salsa, garnish
Cut the steak into 6 pieces. With a heavy meat mallet, pound the steak well to tenderize it. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over 1 side of the meat. Season with fajita rub — heavily for rich, spicy meat, or lightly for milder meat. Let rest 5 minutes.
Flip the steaks and repeat with the second lime and the rub. Place steaks on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and chill up to 2 hours.
Prepare your cooker to cook indirectly at 235 degrees, using medium oak wood for smoke flavor.
In a medium aluminum foil pan, combine onion, bell peppers and jalapeno. Drizzle with olive oil. Toss with salt and 1 tablespoon fajita rub. Put the pan in the cooker and cook for 1 hour.
Wrap the tortillas tightly in foil and set aside.
Toss onions and peppers with tongs. Add the steak to the cooker in one layer. Cook 30 minutes more.
Toss the onion-pepper mixture again and flip the steaks. Put the tortilla package in the cooker. Cook for 30 minutes more.
Remove everything from the cooker. Tent steaks loosely with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Slice steaks thinly, against the grain, and add to the onion-pepper mixture. Toss well and serve with the warm tortillas, sour cream and salsa.
Yield: Serves 10.

Fired-Up Fajita Rub
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup chili powder
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon lemon pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. The rub may be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 6 months.
Note: This big, bold, spicy rub is great for fajita and taco meat, where the tortillas will help mellow things out.
Yield: About 1 cup.

Guilt-Free Cinco de Mayo

I can tell that Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner, and it’s not because it says so on the calendar. I’ve received numerous e-mails over the past couple of weeks with recipe suggestions for the holiday that many Mexicans in the U.S. and south of the border celebrate.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not Mexico’s Independence Day (Sept. 16) but a regional holiday in Mexico, primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla, with some limited recognition in other parts of Mexico. The holiday commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

One of the e-mails came from Elizabeth Edelman of www.DiabetesDaily.com, who has developed some nutritious adaptations of some Cinco de Mayo favorites, including guacamole, veggie quesadillas and steak fajitas, which are quick to make and easy to take to any Cinco de Mayo celebration.

While looking for healthy versions of Cinco de Mayo recipes may have you scratching your head, you needn’t look any further than here. These recipes from Edelman look very tasty and contain less fat than their traditional counterparts.  

Steak Fajitas
2¼ pounds skirt steak, trimmed of fat and cut into thirds
Salt
Pepper
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Lime juice
Olive oil
12 corn tortillas, warm
Guacamole (recipe follows)
Good quality store-bought salsa
Bean dip
MARINADE:
1 orange, juiced
2 limes, juiced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 chipolte chiles, in adobo sauce
3 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
In a small, 2-cup measuring cup, combine all the marinade ingredients. Using an immersion blender, puree the marinade until smooth. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and add the steak, seal and shake to coat. Marinate for 2 to 4 hours.
Preheat a ridged grill pan or grill on high heat.
Drain the marinade from the beef. Lightly oil the grill or grill pan. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill the steak over medium-high heat and cook for 4 minutes on each side and then transfer to a cutting board and let rest. Depending on the size of your grill pan you may need to cook in batches.
Once the beef is off the grill pan and resting, add the bell peppers and onions tossed with lime juice and olive oil, if using. Grill the mixture for 7 to 8 minutes until the vegetables are just barely limp.
While the peppers and onions are cooking, heat up the tortillas. Turn a burner on a medium-low flame. Place a tortilla on each flame and let it char about 30 seconds to 1 minute, flip the tortilla and repeat on the second side. Once heated and charred remove the tortilla to a clean tea towel and wrap to keep warm. Repeat until you have warmed all of your tortillas.
You can also heat your tortillas in a microwave, lightly dampen a tea towel with some water, wrap the tortillas in the damp towel and heat in the microwave for about 1 minute. Check to see if they are warm. If not, repeat the heating in 1-minute intervals until they are warm and pliable.
Thinly slice the steak against the grain on a diagonal.
To serve, spread some guacamole and bean dip on a tortilla, top with a few slices of steak, peppers, onions and salsa. Top with sour cream and shredded cheese if desired. Roll up the tortilla to enclose the filling.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving (not including salsa and guacamole): 587 calories, 29 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugars, 33 grams fat (13 grams saturated, no trans), 552 milligrams sodium, 44 grams protein.

Guacamole
5 ripe Hass avocados
2 limes, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
½ small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 small tomato, chopped
1 big handful fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Halve and pit the avocados. With a tablespoon, scoop out the flesh into a mixing bowl. Mash the avocados with a fork, leaving them still a bit chunky. Add all of the rest of the ingredients, and fold everything together. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with tortilla chips or fresh cut veggies.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 280 calories, 18 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fiber, 2 grams sugars, 25 grams fat (4 grams saturated, no trans), 200 milligrams sodium, 4 grams protein.

Portobello and Spinach Quesadilla
1 pound of spinach, washed
2 portobello mushroom caps, grilled or sauteed and sliced thinly
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced thin and caramelized
½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 12-inch flour tortillas
½ cup grated Cheddar jack blend cheese, shredded
Salsa, guacamole and sour cream, for serving
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the garlic for 1 minute and then add the spinach. Cook until the spinach is wilted and turn off the heat. Set aside.
Lay out 2 of the flour tortillas on a flat surface. Top with ½ cup of the cheese, spreading evenly over the tortillas. Divide the portobello mushrooms, the onions and the spinach among the tortillas. Top with remaining tortillas and press to seal.
Heat a large saute pan over high heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and lower the heat to medium. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Repeat with the other quesadilla.
Let cool for 5 minutes. Slice into 8 or 10 pieces. Garnish with salsa and cilantro sprigs.
Yield: Serves 8 for appetizers.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving (not including toppings, i.e. salsa and sour cream): 236 calorie, 33 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugars, 8 grams fat (3 grams saturated, no trans), 434 milligrams sodium, 9 grams protein.