Before starting a food blog, my approach to cooking was very casual. I didn’t write down measurements and I rarely followed recipes. I could make do with what was in the pantry and be as last-minute and as informal as I desired. At first, being held to more accurate standards felt constrictive, but I grew accustomed to it. And realized, recently, that approaching cooking meticulously has made me a better cook. The trick, I think, is to find the happy middle ground: marrying an impromptu approach to home cooking with the formality and technique of a trained chef.
These fajitas perfectly embody both qualities. The recipe won’t fail if you decide to amplify one ingredient or reduce another. And the spice blend translates equally well with chicken or the classic fajita meat, beef. The simplicity of it is a marvel: you only really need some fresh lime juice, a generous spoonful of cumin, some chile heat, and a protein to carry it, along with the classic pile of onion and bell pepper and a tortilla to enclose everything. Perfect out of doors eating as the weather begins to warm.
Yield: 4-6 servings
16 ounces tofu, drained
2 limes, juiced
2 teaspoons mild paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small jalapeño, finely diced (adjust if you prefer less heat)
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 bell peppers in different colors
1 yellow onion (or 2-3 purple spring onions)
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces guacamole
8 ounces pico de gallo salsa
4 ounces strained yogurt (or sour cream)
Flour or corn tortillas
First, thoroughly drain the tofu for at least 1/2 hour. Place the tofu between two heavy dinner plates to squeeze out excess water.
While the tofu drains, prepare the marinade. Combine the lime juice, paprika, cumin, minced garlic, jalapeño, ancho chile powder and sea salt. Set aside.
Next, slice tofu in half along its length. Slice in half again crosswise, and then into quarters, so that you have narrow rectangles. Press with paper towels.
Arrange the tofu in a baking dish and distribute the marinade equally. Let sit for at least one hour in the fridge, preferably longer. Flip the tofu a few times while marinading.
While the tofu marinates, prepare the vegetables. Slice the bell peppers in half, remove core and seeds, and thinly slice lengthwise. Thinly slice onion lengthwise. Set aside.
Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and place in an oven at 300 degrees until ready to serve.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add two tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the tofu. You may have to work in batches. Flip the tofu a few times, letting the surface darken and char in places. When the outsides are browned and crisp, remove. Continue with remaining tofu.
Add a little more oil to the same pan. Add the onions and the bell peppers and saute until soft, about 8 minutes. Stir to keep from burning. The vegetables will absorb some of the wonderful smoky flavors of the marinade. Remove from heat and gently mix the tofu with the vegetables.
Place the tofu and vegetable mix, guacamole, salsa, yogurt and cilantro in separate serving bowls with spoons. Wrap the tortillas in a cloth napkin. Serve family style.
Kimberley Hasselbrink is a food photographer and blogger based in San Francisco. She is the author of the blog The Year in Food, which is framed around a monthly seasonal food guide. Kimberley enjoys unusual produce, strong coffee, road trips and summer nights.