Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, is a holiday that celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Cinco de Mayo 2018 occurs tomorrow on Saturday, May 5. A relatively minor holiday in Mexico, however, in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage. Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s independence day. Mexican independence is celebrated on September 16.
Celebrate the day with this traditional Tex-Mex dinner, Steak Fajitas. The fajita is a Tex-Mex food (a blending of Texas cowboy and Mexican panchero foods). The Mexican term for grilled skirt steak is arracheras, and its American counterpart is fajitas. Today, the term fajita has completely lost its original meaning and has come to describe just about anything that is cooked and served in a rolled up soft flour tortilla. The only true fajitas, however, are made from skirt steak.
According to the Austin Chronicle, Fajitas appear to have made the leap from campfire to backyard grill in 1969. Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager, operated the first commercial fajita concession stand at a rural celebration. That same year, fajitas appeared on the menu at Otilia Garza’s Round-Up Restaurant, At the Round-Up, fajitas were served on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas and mounds of condiments – guacamole, pico de gallo (chopped fresh onions, tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro), and grated cheese – for making tacos. The more popular the dish became, the less likely it was to be made from skirt steak. By the mid-1980s, fajitas were a fairly common dish in most Mexican restaurants and would ultimately become a popular nineties fast-food item where other cuts of meat were used, and the addition of grilled items such as chicken, shrimp, and even vegetable “fajitas” blurred the line even further.
How do you make authentic steak fajitas? This way:
First, make the Lime Marinade
Grated zest and juice of 3 limes
2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the lime marinade ingredients; set aside.
Lime Marinade (see recipe)
1 to1 1/2 pound skirt steak or flank steak
2-3 assorted bell peppers, cored, seeded, and quartered
1 large sweet onion, cut into thick circles
2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped
Shredded cheddar cheese
Lay the skirt steak on a cutting board and remove the outer membrane (grab the membrane with one hand and slide the knife beneath it, cutting as you go). Using a sharp paring knife, make a number of slits in the meat, cutting both with and against the grain of the meat (this cuts the muscle fiber and reduces any toughness.)
Add the skirt steak to the lime marinade; re-seal the bag and marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour but overnight is recommended, turning the steak occasionally.
Remove steak from refrigerator and bring to room temperature before cooking.
Preheat an outdoor grill and oil the grates.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wrap stacked flour tortillas in aluminum foil and heat in the oven 15 minutes or until hot.
Brush the bell peppers and onions with olive oil.
Drain the steaks and reserve the marinade. Place the steak on the hot grill and spoon some of the reserved marinade over the steak. Close the grill lid and cook 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare (120 degrees F. on a meat thermometer). Remove the steaks from grill and transfer to a cutting board. Cut the steaks on the diagonal into thin strips.
While the shirt steak is cooking on the grill, add the bell peppers and onion slices and grill about 2 minutes or until soft; remove from the grill, place on the cutting board and slice into strips. Place cooked steak strips and vegetables onto a platter.
For each fajita, fill a warm flour tortilla with cooked steak strips, peppers and onion slices. Add tomatoes, cheddar cheese, sour cream and avocado as desired and roll up like a burrito.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
The ingredients listed above are all at their best, so make the most of August’s seasonal foods by turning them into delicious summer recipes. Pair some of summer’s ripe tomatoes with some delicious crab. Create a salad with ripe peaches and Parma Ham. Cook up some pasta and add chopped August veggies and chill. Perfect for a weeknight dinner. Below are some ideas to inspire you to create some recipes from August’s bounty.
New York Deli Style Pickled Green Tomatoes
For each quart jar:
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 1/4 cups distilled water or purified tap water
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 1 pound firm full-sized green tomatoes
- 1 stalk celery, cut in pieces
- 1/2 Serrano chili, stem removed or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half
- 2 tablespoons dill seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
Notes on the ingredients:
The tomatoes must be all green and cut into quarters.
You can usually find distilled water in the grocery or drug store. Distilled water is best because it has impurities removed and impurities can impart off flavors. Purified tap water is perfectly fine to use also.
Use Kosher salt not table salt. Kosher salt has larger flake shaped grains and also has small amounts of anti-caking additives but no iodine.
The recipe needs a little heat. Half a serrano works perfectly. If fresh peppers are not available, you can use 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
You must use distilled vinegar. Any other vinegar imparts too many odd flavors.
Use really clean bottles and lids. Sterilize them by submerging them in a boiling water bath or on a setting for sanitizing in your dishwasher.
Add the garlic, dill seeds, celery, hot pepper or red pepper flakes and peppercorns to the jar.
Thoroughly wash the tomatoes, remove the stem and cut them into quarters. Cram them in the jar leaving about ½ inch of space at the top.
Make the brine by combining the vinegar, water and salt in a non-reactive sauce pan or pot. Bring to a boil and stir until all the salt is dissolved.
Pour the hot brine over the tomatoes to within 1/4″ of the top. Wipe the jar top, put the lids on and tighten. Turn the jars over and let sit for a couple of hours.
Return the jars to the upright position and leave on the kitchen counter overnight. Refrigerate the pickled tomatoes for two weeks before serving.
The pickled tomatoes will keep for months in the refrigerator.
Easy Chilled Summer Melon Soup
This soup makes a great summer appetizer or serve it for lunch.
Serves 4 – 6
- 4 cups Crenshaw or cantaloupe melon, skin and seeds removed
- 4 cups yellow watermelon, skin and seeds removed
- One 15 ounce can coconut milk
- Grated zest of one large lime
- 1 large scallion (green onion) light green section finely diced and the top chopped and reserved for garnish
- 1 jalapeno chili, seeded and diced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Basil or mint leaves for garnish
Dice the melon and set aside 4 cups of each kind of melon. Puree the melon in a food processor. You will probably need to do this in batches. Pour the processed melon into a storage bowl.
To the last batch of puree add the lime zest, jalapeno, ginger,1 teaspoon of basil, the 1 teaspoon mint, diced light green scallion and the salt to the melon puree in the processor.
Pulse a few times and pour in the storage bowl with the first batch of pureed melon. Pour in the coconut milk and stir well.
Chill the soup overnight. Garnish with scallion tops, fresh mint leaves or basil when serving.
Breaded Eggplant Salad
For the eggplant
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 cup dried Italian flavored bread crumbs
- Olive oil
For the salad
- Half a large yellow or red tomato, sliced thin
- 1/3 cup diced pickled peppers (spicy peppers are great here if you like them)
- 4 cups salad greens, chopped
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon each of sea salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil.
Combine the salad dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
Cut the eggplant into 1 x 2 inch pieces.
Combine the beaten egg and milk in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs in another.
Dip the eggplant into the egg and then into the bread crumbs. Place the coated eggplant on the baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Bake the eggplant until crispy and brown, turning them over when one side is golden, about 20 minutes.
Place the chopped pickled peppers on a paper towel to remove some of the moisture.
While the eggplant bakes, arrange the salad ingredients on individual salad serving plates. Top with the cooked eggplant and drizzle with some of the dressing.
Mix well; serve immediately with additional dressing on the side.
Need a quick side dish, full of flavor and certainly seasonal, try these quick broiled tomatoes.
For each 2 person serving
- 1 large beefsteak tomato
- 2 teaspoons prepared basil pesto
- 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
Heat the broiler to high.
Cut the tomato in half and place in a baking dish, cut sides up.
Spread 1 teaspoon of pesto over each tomato.
Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs and then the grated cheese.
Drizzle each with a little olive oil.
Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the topping is nicely browned.
Easy Homemade Jam
This is a basic jam recipe and it works with any fruit (other than citrus). You can make jam with whatever fruit grows well where you live. In each season, use the best fruit you can find.
Work in small batches. Three pounds of fruit will yield close to 2 ½ pints of jam. If you want more jars, make two small batches rather than one double batch. The quality of the jam will be much better.
You don’t need to process the jars in a boiling water bath for this recipe. Just store the jam in the refrigerator, where it will last for weeks.
You can also store the jam in the freezer. The Ball Company now makes great containers to store the jam in for the freezer.
The unprocessed homemade jam will not make you ill, because most jams are made from high acid fruits which are not susceptible to botulism.
I made Blackberry Jam using this recipe. It is definitely worth making because the jam has such a fresh and distinct blackberry taste. Not at all like processed jam.
For 2 1/2 pints
- 3 pounds ripe fruit, such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches, plums, etc.
- 2 to 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 lemon
Clean and cut the fruit as you would for making a fruit salad or fruit pie. For example: remove the caps from strawberries and cut into quarters; or peel, pit and slice peaches into pieces; or trim rhubarb and chop it into chunks.
Using a potato masher, crush the fruit until soupy. Measure this puree and note the quantity. Put the puree in a wide, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot.
The puree should be no more than 1 inch deep in the bottom of the pot. I placed half of the blackberry puree in a strainer to remove the seeds before proceeding with the recipe.
For every two cups of fruit puree, add to the pot one scant cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Stir to combine and taste. Very tart fruit (such as sour cherries, some plums or blackberries) might need a little more sugar. Very sweet fruit (such as white peaches) might need a little more lemon juice. Adjust to taste.
Bring the fruit-sugar mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. After it boils, continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for 12 to 14 minutes, or until thickened.
Check the consistency by turning off the heat and putting a spoonful of hot jam on a chilled saucer in the freezer for one minute.
When ready, the cold jam will form a light skin that wrinkles when you push your finger through it and it will cling to the saucer when you tilt the saucer upright.
If the cold jam is too runny, bring the pot back to a boil for another minute or two, stirring constantly, then check the set again.
When the jam is set, ladle it into clean half-pint jars or other air-tight containers. Allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Fresh Strawberry Syrup
Delicious over pancakes, cheesecake, ice cream or crepes.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1-pint strawberries, stems and leaves removed
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Place sugar and water in a small saucepan over high heat; stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool completely. Place half the berries in the jar of a blender; add the syrup. Puree until smooth and pass through a fine sieve or colander.
Chop remaining berries; stir into the strawberry puree. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days or freeze in small containers.
Makes 12 – 15 muffins depending on the size of your muffin pan.
- 2 1/4 cups (9 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) sour cream
- 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) fresh blueberries
- 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons butter
Pre-heat the oven to 400°F and either lightly grease 12 -15 muffin cups or use paper liners and spray the insides of the papers.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a hand-held or stand mixer, until light and fluffy and almost white in color.
Scrape down the bowl to make sure all the butter is incorporated, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and sour cream and mix until incorporated.
Add the dry ingredients and mix on low-speed just until the batter is smooth. Fold in the berries by hand.
Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups, using 1/4-cup for each muffin.
To make the topping:
In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over the muffins.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center, comes out clean. Remove them from the oven, cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan to finish cooling on a wire rack.
Summer Fruit Salad
Use summer fruits that are in season. I used about 6 cups of cut fruit in this recipe.
Fruit, sliced or cut into cubes
Mint-Lime Simple Syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
For the syrup:
Stir together the sugar and mint and 1 cup water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil 1 minute or until the sugar dissolves.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the lime juice, and cool 30 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer into an airtight container. Cover and chill syrup 4 hours.
For the salad:
Gently toss together the fruit in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup Mint-Lime Simple Syrup, and gently stir to coat. Taste to see if the fruit needs more syrup.
Serve immediately, or cover and chill until serving time.
Peach Barbecue Sauce
This recipe makes one of the best tasting BBQ sauces I have made. It is especially good for grilled chicken.
Yields 4 cups.
- 2 cups peeled and chopped very ripe peaches, about 4 medium peaches
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoons onion salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups tomato ketchup
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons butter, cubed and well chilled
Process peaches in a blender 1 minute or until smooth and pour into a medium saucepan. Add all the additional ingredients except the butter. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low.
Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick. With a whisk, blend in the butter cubes, a few cubes at a time, until incorporated. Refrigerate covered until needed.
A favorite destination for Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Buffett, and many more, Key West is known for its palm lined streets, gingerbread architecture, water sports, and for “the” freshest locally caught fish. With a distinct mixture of cultures, the island is not only home to a strong seafood scene, but to a tantalizing fusion of cuisines. At night, the streets are lit with vibrant sidewalk cafes that lure in passersby’s with the delicious scents of their specialties. Live music and hopping bars are the perfect pairings to watch the sunset into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Florida Keys is home to five districts, each with their own personality and attractions that make visitors feel like they are a world away. The southernmost paradise, Key West, is just miles from Cuba and is home to an enviable temperate climate and a delicious array of fresh seafood set to a beautiful sea backdrop. Bringing together a multitude of cultures that have made Key West home during its history, Key West’s food scene has delicious flavors, like African and Cuban, that are difficult to find anywhere else in the US.
As a guide to the restaurant and seafood landscape, Paul Menta can tell you all there is to know about the area. A professional chef, community advocate, and pro kite surfer, Paul is the perfect person to tell you about the best secret dining spots in Key West. The Philly native began his culinary career in Spain and France and eventually came to Key West to continue his love for competitive kite surfing. An athlete, distiller, chef, and entrepreneur, Paul has made it his mission to tap into all that Key West has to offer.
His most recent venture, Three Hands Fish, is a community supported fish market in Key West. Its members, chefs and home cooks, have access to the freshest fish, shrimp, stone crabs, oysters, and lobster that come to the docks each day. As Paul describes it,” the first hand is the hand of the fisherman, the second the market, and the third is when the fish makes it into the hands of the individual or restaurant”. Paul is proud of his market as it brings local, traceable seafood to the people with plenty of variety, thus avoiding over fishing a specific species.
Key West has seafood unlike anywhere in the world and the crucial ingredient is the water. The Gulf of Mexico mixes with the Atlantic ocean making a perfect nursery for a plethora of fish, crab, and lobster. The fishermen of the region have come together to create a sustainable plan for the future of their industry, naturally controlling over-producing populations that threaten to take over the ecosystem. “Not only are visitors able to jump on the boat for themselves and go fishing in some of the clearest waters, but they are able to sit back and relax, knowing they can find the same fresh fish in local restaurants,” says Paul.
If you are looking for a taste of the freshest seafood right on the dock, Paul suggests visiting The Stone Crab restaurant. This restaurant serves up some of the best of what Key West is known for, the stone crab, but they also do it in a stunning setting with an unbeatable view of the water. Housed in a resort built in 1956, the restaurant keeps alive the tradition of the fishermen bringing their catches straight to their dock, something that is no longer happening in other areas. And if you are looking for a place to stay, Paul recommends Ibis Bay Resort, home to The Stone Crab, which has a retro feel. Stop in for fun cocktails and great seafood that the restaurant catches themselves. Head here for stone crab, lobster, Key West shrimp, and more local fish. Be ready for a good time at The Stone Crab!
For the die-hard cooks, go for a ride on a private charter to catch the freshest fish for yourself. Paul recommends Lucky Fleet, chartered by Captain Moe, to take you on this adventure and help guide you in hooking the best seasonable seafood. Moe has been fishing the waters around Key West for over 30 years and knows his way around. Whether you are an avid deep-sea fisherman or fisher-woman or this is your first time, Captain Moe will take you on a great adventure, not just a boat ride. From sailfish to tuna to grouper, they will lead you to the right spot.
To learn how to prepare the seafood you just caught, take a class at Isle Cook where Paul himself will teach you how to cook local recipes and healthy meals with seafood. “Being a chef and commercial fisherman I can tell you there is no better teacher of how to use, care for, store, cook and eat a product than a fishermen. They have ideas and techniques that most chefs would die for….but they have to ask…..so we spread the word to them,” says Paul.
When visiting Key West, be sure to try fish you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get at home. Considered local to Key West are the Hogfish, Mangrove Snapper, and, as of late, the Lion Fish. Paul’s favorite? The Hogfish. This fish is caught by spear fishing, which is a fun challenge to try. Speared by yourself or someone else, Paul suggests serving the fish whole and he affectionately calls it the “Key West Turkey”, because it can be stuffed with lobster, onions, and herbs.
While you may have heard of Key West’s conch fritters, which is fried conch meat that is actually native to the Caribbean, Paul prefers to make grouper fritters. Fisherman of Key West are able to catch the grouper right off the coast, so this is a true local specialty. Similar to the conch fritter, the grouper is mixed with onions, carrots and a traditional Key West seafood seasoning made by the Key West Spice Company and it contains celery seed, salt, paprika, and red pepper. It is a simple preparation, but fresh grouper doesn’t need overpowering flavors. Once the batter is made, Paul fries the fish balls until golden and enjoys them in a sandwich or as an appetizer sitting by the beautiful water. You will find his recipe below:
- 1 pound grouper
- 1/2 cup onions
- 1/2 cup carrots
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Key West seafood seasoning
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons Key Lime juice
- 1/2 cup flour
- Coconut oil, for frying
Finely dice the onions and carrots and mix with the grouper.
Add the Key West seafood seasoning.
In a medium bowl mix together the egg yolk and the key lime juice.
Add the flour and mix until a batter forms.
Use a tablespoon to make balls and fry the grouper balls in coconut oil or bake them in the oven on a sheet tray until brown. Serve with your favorite dip or sauce.
To make the grouper mixture into a sandwich filling instead of an appetizer, form the mixture into larger patties or rounds and cook as described above.
Key West Inspired: Strawberry Salad with Coconut Milk Dressing
Since it is strawberry season in Florida now, I decided to make a Key West inspired strawberry salad to add to this post. I think the recipe I created is a great example of the type of local flavors, ingredients and good eating that you will find in Key West. This salad is also a great accompaniment to some wonderful grilled Key West Pink Shrimp.
- One head Butter or Bibb Lettuce
- 1 pint of fresh strawberries
- 1 ripe avocado
- Half of a large or one small cucumber, unpeeled
- Lime juice
- 3/4 cup regular coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons coconut flavored Greek yogurt
- 3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
To make the dressing:
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. Chill in the refrigerator while you make the salad.
For the salad:
Wash and dry the lettuce. Place the lettuce cups on a serving plate. Leave space on the serving plate for a small bowl that can hold the dressing.
Remove the strawberry leaves, wash the strawberries and place them on paper towels to dry.
Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and cut each half into one inch pieces.
Cut the peeled avocado into one inch chunks and squeeze lime juice over them to prevent browning while you make the salad.
Arrange the strawberries, cucumber pieces and avocado attractively in the lettuce cups. Pour the Coconut dressing into the bowl on the serving plate.
Guests can help themselves to a lettuce cup and drizzle some of the dressing over the salad.