Back in the ’80s we thought we were so cool to make fajitas at home. Tex-Mex was a new rage and it became a fun new party food. Back in those days, we made fajitas with a thick London broil, sliced and then marinated, each slice grilled individually. The peppers (only green bells were readily available in those days) and onion were flash-sauted on the stovetop. What did we know?
Thinking of fajitas immediately brings back the scents of onions and peppers cooking, the sounds of laughter with friends, little kids running around everywhere. It’s clearly time to revisit fajita making and zhoosh it up a little.
The Marinade and the Meat
Swapping bavette steak (also called sirloin flap) for the London broil is a nice improvement from the way-back machine version. Bavette comes from the bottom of the sirloin section of a beef near the flank and has a texture very similar to flank or skirt steak. Its nice marbling offers a wonderful flavor, and it is infinitely more tender than the good ol’ London broil ever hoped to be.
To highlight the texture of the meat and ensure it’s tenderness, but sure to slice it thinly and against its grain. The dotted lines in this diagram show the inherent grain of the meat. The knife shows the direction the blade should cut through it to go against the grain. This way, it becomes much more enjoyable to chew.
Bavette lends itself to a good bath in a marinade, absorbing its flavors well which this marinade delivers. Four easy ingredients– fresh lime juice, a handful of cilantro, garlic, salt, and a quick whiz in a food processor are all you need.
A very hot grill lets you achieve a flavorful sear without overcooking. The wind was blowing hard the day I photographed this and my grill grates just couldn’t get hot enough to lay down those gorgeous char lines. Such is the life of a home cook.
The Peppers and Onion
The updated version goes way beyond green bell peppers. The end-of-summer treasure trove of colorful peppers makes it easy to stuff your fajitas with a balance of flavor and color. Use all the colors! Reds, oranges, yellows, chartreuse, grassy greens and deep greens mixes means you’ll be including the array of sweet, hot, mild, earthy, bright flavors.
The onions should be white. Period. Clean and crisp is best here.
Now is the time to invest in a grill pan if you don’t already have one, as they should be on end-of-season sales. Cut your vegetables to size– a mix of strips and rings is fun and beautiful– and toss them into a pre-heated grill pan that has first been sprayed with a cooking oil spray. Blast them with a good amount of heat– you want them to begin to char without overcooking. Char for flavor, but still with some good crunch for texture.
The Avocado Tomatillo Salsa
Let’s straighten this out right away: This is not guacamole. One bite and you will see the difference. This simple element could easily be the star of the show. Avocado, tomatillo, and little cilantro if you want, garlic, and salt gets quickly pureed in the food processor happens in minutes start to finish. Because the base ingredients are the same, you don’t even have to wash the food processor bowl out first.
You’ll want to add this four-ingredient salsa to your go-to list. It is so good on everything. Everything. Rice bowls, snacking with chips, tacos, mixed with some chopped cooked chicken and a few crunchy vegetables for a new chicken salad, potatoes, eggs; you name it.
I’m so happy to have rediscovered homemade fajitas. A few ingredient additions, and grilling the peppers and onions fills the air with that unmistakable fajita scent. I’ll definitely make this new and improved ’20s version for gatherings coming up.
Tex-Mex Beef Fajitas + Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa
For the Meat, Peppers, and Marinade
- 3 limes, juiced
- 4-5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro leaves and stems
- salt to taste
- 1½ pounds Bavette (sirloin flap) steak, or skirt steak
- 1½ pounds mixed peppers (red, yellow and orange bells, Hatch, poblano, Hungarian, banana, etc.) Use what the garden or farmers market is offering!
- 2 medium white onions
- 12 taco-sized flour tortillas
- 3 avocados, ripe
- 1 pound tomatillos, papery husks removed and washed
- 2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro (optional)
- ½-1 jalapeño, roughly chopped
- salt to taste
- For the Marinade
- Add the first four ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Whirl, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until well blended and the cilantro is just shy of smooth. Place the Bavette steak in a one-gallon zip-lock bag and pour in the marinade. Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate at least one and not more than four hours, turning and smooshing the bag occasionally to distribute the marinade.
- Prep the peppers and onions and set aside until time to grill.
- Heat a gas grill to high (about 500°) and let the grates get very hot. For a charcoal grill, build a bed of charcoal large enough to cook your grill pan of vegetables and the steak over hot direct heat. Place the grill pan on the grates while the grill heats.
- Start the vegetables first: Spray your hot grill pan with cooking spray (stand back and be very careful to avoid flames) and scoot all the vegetables into it. Do not disturb the vegetables for 2-3 minutes to allow some charring before turning them. Do this several times throughout the cooking to get a nice char without overcooking the vegetables. depending on the heat of your grill, the size of your grill pan, and the amount of vegetables, this can take 10-20 minutes.
- When the vegetables are about 5 minutes from being ready, spray the grates where the meat will cook, and place the meat on the grill. Again, do not disturb the meat to allow for great charring. After 2-3 minutes, check for char and flip. Repeat on the second side. It is very easy to overcook this thinner cut of meat, which may render it tough, so again, err on the side of caution.
- While the meat is resting, heat a skillet to medium-high. Toast the tortillas until they are warm, soft, and beginning to blister, flipping once, about a total of 1 minute each. Slice the steak thinly across the grain. Pile peppers and onions and sliced steak into the tortillas and top with the avocado-tomatillo salsa. Serve!
For the Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa
- Toss all ingredients into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse at first until the ingredients start moving freely, then whirl until a creamy pureed consistency. Refrigerate until serving. Don't be afraid to make a double batch, as this creamy/tangy salsa is divine on so many things. It keeps well for about three days in your fridge, if it lasts that long.