Here in Korea, they don’t know about fajitas at all, but because I had a friend from Chihuahua, Mexico who taught me a lot, we can enjoy all kinds of good Mexican food here, and last night, I used one of her recipes. I have lived in countries where it is harder to make the fajitas because I had to start completely from scratch, but here in Korea, the stores are more modern and stocked plentifully, so the ingredients are not hard to come by. The only challenges here are not knowing for sure how hot their chili spice is because it is more potent than what we have in America and the smallness of the kitchen.
To begin with, my friend from Chihuahua said to me that a Mexican fajita is like an American sandwich. Each person who makes them makes them slightly different. You put in your fajitas what you like. When she and I made fajitas together, we used strips of beef, but here in Korea, beef is extremely expensive. When I was in Mexico, I realized they ate a lot more chicken than what Americans realized, so I use chicken in my fajitas. I by the boneless chicken and cut it up into strips.
As far as the salsa, I use a big yellow sweet pepper, a large tomato, and a half of a large onion. I cut them all in small pieces and fry them all together until they become salsa, and then I set it aside. If you want better instructions for this salsa, you can look back through my blogs and find a blog explaining step by step how to make this salsa.
You also need pinto beans. At times, I haven’t been able to find pinto beans, so I used black beans, but pinto beans are what the Mexicans use. When the lady from Chihuahua gave me cooking lessons, she boiled the pinto beans ahead of time before we ever met. I am slightly lazy, and I can find canned pinto beans in the stores here, so I use canned pinto beans. In American grocery stores, you can find canned refried beans, but those canned refried beans can’t even compare to homemade refried beans.
At times, I have had to boil the beans ahead of time, and it takes a lot of time. You have to begin the night ahead of time. You take your dried beans, wash them, and soak them in water overnight. The next day, you put a fire under them, let them come to a boil, turn the fire down, and cook them for several hours with the lid on. You have to keep your eye on them because the water could cook out of them and scorch your beans. If you see the water cooking out of them, add water. Stir them from time to time. Wait until they are soft, and then they are ready to use to make refried beans. In America, many women have crock pots, and crock pots make cooking the beans much easier. If you have a crock pot, use it.
As for the tortillas, the lady from Chihuahua taught me to make homemade flour tortillas, but I didn’t make them last night. There are times I have had to make them just so we could have tortillas, but I can find tortillas here in Korea. Homemade tortillas are much better than store bought tortillas, but I am slightly lazy, and store bought tortillas are good. I will show you how to make homemade tortillas in another blog.
The beans and the tortillas are so essentially basic in Mexican cooking. When I was traveling in Mexico once, a family from church invited us to come to breakfast before church. The wife had gotten up early to cook the beans and make flour tortillas even for breakfast. She served us pinto beans, flour tortillas, and scrambled eggs.
As for cooking last night, my stove is small because it is Korean, and I need more burners than I have, so I began by making the salsa, and then I set it aside because it doesn’t need to be warm when we eat.
After that, I did the refried beans. Usually, I would begin with the refried beans because the longer you cook the beans, the better they will taste. To make the refried beans, I began by putting a small fire under a frying pan, then I put cooking oil in the pan. For those ladies who know how to make gravy, making refried beans is similar to making gravy, but you use slightly more oil. Be generous with the cooking oil. As the oil is heating, add a little flour as if you are making gravy. When making gravy, you actually make a kind of paste with the oil and flour, but you should have slightly more oil for this than for gravy. Mix the flour around in the oil and let it heat until it is bubbly. At that point, pour your beans in, liquid and all and stir it around into the oil and flour. You will want to use a fork to stir the beans. As the beans heat, you can use the fork to smash the beans. You will be cooking the beans the whole time you cook everything else because they need to be cooked just as long as you can. At the beginning, they will seem slightly liquid, but the more they cook, the liquid will leave, and they will slowly turn into a soft paste. It is okay if all the beans are not completely mashed.
During the cooking, sprinkle some chili spice into the beans like you are sprinkling salt. This is where I had a bit of trouble last evening while I was cooking. I was using Korean chili spice because my American chili spice was all used up. The Korean chili spice is much stronger than the American chili spice. After I mixed it in, I could see that the refried beans looked slightly pink, and I was worried I had used too much because I know the Korean chili spice is more potent than the American chili spice. When we ate it, it still tasted scrumptious, but we did feel a bit of a bite from the chili spice, and you are not supposed to use so much of the chili spice bites unless you specifically want it to bite. Thankfully, I didn’t give any of us stomach problems, and the fajitas were still simply delicious.
These beans can be used with other recipes also. If you look back through my blogs, there is a good recipe for Spanish rice. If you don’t have meat or don’t want to use meat in your Spanish rice, you can make the refried beans on the side, and it makes an excellent meal.
While the beans were cooking, I began cooking the meat. I put some cooking oil in the bottom of a frying pan, and then I added the strips of meat. I sprinkled cumin on the meat. Sprinkle it generously. It will be hard to use too much cumin, so don’t worry about it. Mix the meat around with the cumin generously sprinkled over it. The smell will be wonderful! After the meat looks cooked on all sides, cook it a few more minutes to be sure it is done all the way through, then you can turn it off and set it aside. While you are cooking the meat, keep an eye on the beans. You will be stirring the beans and the meat alternately. When you turn the meat off, continue cooking the beans.
Put another frying pan on the stove for the tortillas. Put just a little cooking oil in the pan and turn the fire on medium high. Put a tortilla into the pan and let it heat a short time until the tortilla begins to look like it is bubbling up from inside, the turn it over. It will bubble up some more. As they cook, brown, dark brown, and black marks will appear all over the tortillas. Don’t fry the tortillas. Bake them in a caste iron skillet. After the tortilla is done on both sides, take it out and put it on a separate plate while you cook the next one and the next one the same way. Each tortillas takes just about a minute a piece. While you are cooking the tortillas, keep cooking and stirring the beans.
When you have decided your beans have cooked long enough, take them off the fire. I took mine off right after I finished the tortillas. You can’t cook the beans too long. However, at times, I have cooked them so much the soft paste became too stiff, and I just added water, mixed it in, and cooked it a little more until it was a good soft paste.
When each dish is finished, it is time to compile your fajitas. First, put a tortilla on a plate. Put some of the refried beans in a line down the middle of the refried beans. After that, put the meat on top of the beans, and then salsa on top of the meat. The taste is wonderful! This is not the typical thing you will find at a Mexican restaurant in America. This is a typical dish you would eat in a Mexican home.