Monday, September 30, 2013

Silk Road fajitas

I absolutely adore this dish. 

Granted, being a California kid, I practically grew up on Mexican dishes, so fajitas are pure comfort food as far as I am concerned. And I have to admit that as much as I adore the Mexican way with steak and tortillas, this version from up in the Chinese Northwest inevitably blows me away.

There is so much in common between the two—flour tortillas, grilled steak, barely cooked vegetables, cilantro, cumin, garlic, and a dash of salt—that they seem like mirror images of each other. 

Brilliant ideas sometimes seem to travel across space and time in order to end up on the plates of grateful diners. I don’t understand what wormhole allowed this to happen, but there you are.

Go ahead, squeeze some lime in your beer. Just don’t sneak any guacamole onto your plate.

Silk Road fajitas
Báobĭng jiān níuròu  薄餅煎牛肉
Serves 4

16 Chinese flour tortillas (either baobing or héyèbĭng 荷葉餅) or 16 smallish but really good Mexican tortillas

12 ounces boneless beef steak of any kind
2 tablespoons rice wine (Mijiu)
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground toasted cumin
½ teaspoon (more or less) finely ground chilies
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 sweet red pepper, trimmed and cut into thin strips
3 green onions, trimmed and julienned
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

1. Prepare the wheat wrappers and grill as directed. Place them in a clean tea towel and fold it around them to retain the heat. When it comes time to eat, peel the wrappers apart into thin tortillas, if you wish, or leave them as is.

2. Slice off the fat and any gristle in the steak before cutting it against the grain into thin slices. Cut across these slices to form strips less than ¼-inch thick. Place the steak strips in a small work bowl and toss with the rice wine, salt, cumin, chilies, and oil. (The steak can also be prepared earlier in the day, covered, and refrigerated so it has extra time to marinate.)

3. About 10 minutes before serving, heat a seasoned cast-iron frying pan over high heat. Toss in the steak and all of the marinade. Sear the steak by allowing it to brown before flipping the strips over. When most of the pink has disappeared and the meat has a good brown sheen, add the garlic and red peppers. Toss these together over high. As soon as the peppers barely start to wilt, remove the pan from the heat, and then toss in the green onions and finally the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve alongside the warm tortillas.

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