Recipe: Beef fajitas with black beans and lime cabbage slaw

I haven’t had Mexican food yet in Cambridge (partly because I suspect it won’t be particularly good/authentic), and I’ve missed it! I couldn’t even find poblano peppers when I was shopping for this recipe. Of course, here I am, making fajitas, a Tex-Mex dish, after complaining about authenticity…but whatever. They’re my go-to order at Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants anyway; reasonably healthy and usually wheat-free (my true love in Mexican food, mole, is generally made with breadcrumbs in the sauce 😦 ).

Fun fact: my first nickname, the only one I ever had growing up, was “Beans.” Admittedly, the only person who called me that was our babysitter, Erika, but it lasted a good 5 or 6 years. I hated it most of that time, because I pretty much hated beans until DOC First-Year Trips (when I was forced to eat some due to hunger and realized they actually weren’t that bad), but now I look back on it with fondness. I still have no idea where it came from.

Anyway, these beans are awesome, but they took forever to cook. This is most likely because I followed the advice linked in the recipe and didn’t pre-soak my beans. Soaked beans should take less time to cook, but since I’ve never done it before, I’m hesitant to put a timescale on that method. I do highly recommend adding aromatics like onion, garlic, and orange to the beans while they cook; the orange in particular added just a bit of extra punch that stands out if you’re going to eat them on their own (which I definitely did. With a spoon, straight from the pot).

The tortillas: well, I messed up and overcooked basically all of them so they turned out more like hard little flatbreads than bendy, wrap-able tortillas; even re-heating them with a bowl of water in the microwave didn’t soften them enough. They still worked pretty well to scoop up beans, salsa, melted cheese, and fajita filling, and I tentatively foresee some baked tortilla chips in my house’s future…

I was a bit concerned about the fajita marinade, since it seemed a bit bitter when I mixed it up, but Deb’s recipe, as usual, did not disappoint. Following her instructions was a great way to get a nice char on the peppers and color in the onions. It came together really well!

The lime cabbage slaw was a bit of a disappointment; I added another lime’s juice and a bit more spice to the original inspiration recipe, but it still lacked the peppery kick I was looking for. It’s okay, but definitely the weak link at this point. I really like red cabbage, though, so I’m leaving the recipe in and hoping to come back and tweak it later.

Serving suggestions after the recipes. Enjoy!

Rinsing the beans and picking out the broken/nasty-looking ones. It's about noon in this picture.
Rinsing the beans and picking out the broken/nasty-looking ones. It’s about noon in this picture.
Aromatics ready to go.
Aromatics ready to go.
Just about to boil.
Just about to boil.
About 1 hour into cooking.
About 1 hour into cooking.
I removed the orange rind and aromatics as best I could when I was ready to reduce the liquid...they'd kind of disintegrated by that point.
I removed the orange rind and aromatics as best I could when I was ready to reduce the liquid…they’d kind of disintegrated by that point.
Done!
Done!

Lazy Black Beans

Yield: 3.5-4 cups cooked beans (depends on how much liquid you leave in the pot)

Adapted from Serious Eats.

1.5 c dry black beans, picked over and rinsed
6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced nearly in half (leave root end so it stays intact)
1 orange, rinsed and sliced in half
Salt

Place beans in a large pot and add water until beans are submerged by 3 to 4 inches. Add the garlic and onion, squeeze in orange juice, then add the squeezed orange halves. Cover and place over high heat until water comes to a boil, then uncover pot and reduce heat to a bare simmer. Cook until beans are completely tender and creamy, 4 to 5 hours (for unsoaked beans), stirring occasionally, and adding water if tops of beans become exposed.

Remove orange and onion halves. Increase heat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently, until reduced to a thick, creamy sauce that clings to the beans, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

Mixing flour and oil.
Mixing flour and oil.
Forgot to get a picture of the big dough ball, but the little ones are pretty representative.
Forgot to get a picture of the big dough ball, but the little ones are pretty representative.
I kind of suck at rolling round shapes...
I kind of suck at rolling round shapes…
Side one, in the pan.
Side one, in the pan.
Side two (note the little brown spots).
Side two (note the little brown spots).
I'm quite proud of this little stack of whole-grain goodness (even if they are a bit stiff).
I’m quite proud of this little stack of whole-grain goodness (even if they are a bit stiff).

Whole Spelt Tortillas

Yield: 8-12 tortillas

Adapted from Handle the Heat.

2 c whole spelt flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 c warm water

Mix together the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the oil and mix into the flour thoroughly. Mix in the warm water (if using food processor, do this with the machine running). You’ll want a dough that’s soft but not too sticky. Once the dough is mixed, let sit, covered, for 20 minutes so the grains can absorb the water.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead it a couple of times, and pat into an even disk. Cut the dough into 8-12 pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. Cover the balls with plastic wrap or a dish towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.

If you have a tortilla press, use it to flatten each ball. If you’re rolling the tortillas by hand, take one of the balls and flatten into a small disk. Using a floured rolling pin on a lightly floured work surface, roll the tortillas into a very thin, flat round about 6-8 inches in diameter.

Heat a heavy, ungreased griddle over medium-high heat. Toss a tortilla onto the griddle and let it heat on one side for about 1 minute, until it begins to brown in spots, then lift and flip the tortilla to cook the other side, about 1 minute. Transfer the baked tortilla to a plate and toss the next tortilla onto griddle. Repeat until all tortillas are rolled and baked. Stack the tortillas and cover them with a towel to keep them soft and warm until you’re ready to use. According to the original recipe, tortillas can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

My first time marinating beef (no, seriously).
My first time marinating beef (no, seriously).
Chopping accomplished.
Chopping accomplished.
You want a nice char on your peppers.
You want a nice char on your peppers, so spread them thinly in the pan (this is batch number 3).
Same with the onions: lots of color - lots of flavor!
Same with the onions: lots of color – lots of flavor!
Vegetables go out, beef goes in.
Vegetables go out, beef goes in.
Sizzling away!
Sizzling away!

Beef and Vegetable Fajita Filling

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Juice of 1 lime
2.5 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp dried oregano or mixed herbs
400 g lean diced beef, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1-2 yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together lime juice, spices, and herbs and use mixture to marinate beef pieces for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours in the fridge.

Heat a large skillet on the highest heat. When very hot, drizzle in some olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. When this is nearly smoking hot, add the peppers in a single layer. Wait until they are a little charred underneath before you move them around. Once they’ve begun to brown, add the onions, plus some salt. Wait again for some color to develop before you move them. When peppers are nicely charred in spots and onions have softened and sweetened, scrape mixture onto a plate or bowl to clear the skillet. Heat skillet again on a very high heat with a thin slick of olive oil. Spread diced beef pieces in as much of a single layer as you can. Wait until they are well-browned underneath to move them. Saute strips, regularly pausing so that they can get some color, until cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Return peppers and onions to skillet. Heat again until everything is sizzling.

Dressing, and an illustration that a small head of cabbage makes a surprisingly large amount of slaw.
Dressing, and an illustration that a small head of cabbage makes a surprisingly large amount of slaw.
Dressed and stirred. Now it just needs to sit. (See the last photo to get how the color bleeds and becomes more uniform.)
Dressed and stirred. Now it just needs to sit. (See the last photo to get how the color bleeds and becomes more uniform.)

Lime Cabbage Slaw

Yield: ~5 cups.

Adapted from Epicurious.

2 limes, juice and zest
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1-2 tsp brown sugar or honey
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed chile flakes
1/4 tsp cumin
1 small head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced

Whisk together all ingredients except cabbage in a mug, adjusting amounts to taste. Toss red cabbage with dressing in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit in fridge at least 1 hour before serving. If possible, stir several times as it sits in the fridge for several hours to really coat the cabbage in the dressing.

Serving suggestion: If you have functional (i.e. bendy) tortillas, top a tortilla with sizzling hot fajita filling, a scoop of black beans, and some cabbage slaw. If not, put the fillings in a bowl and use shredded tortilla pieces to scoop. Optionally, garnish with salsa, shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, and/or sour cream, and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

Putting it all together with salsa and cheese. Yum!
Putting it all together with salsa and cheese. Yum!
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