Nathan’s E-Z Mini-Sweet Fajitas!
By Dennis Linden
Here’s a simple one-skillet meal that even a novice cook can prepare and present with a flair, using Melissa’s colorful Veggie Mini Sweet Peppers as one of the primary components in a Tex-Mex cuisine staple, the fajita. Nathan Rodriguez, a member of the company’s Food Service Department’s Warehouse Team, submits this month’s featured recipe that he began perfecting during his college days as an alternative to a popular foodstuff well known to struggling students.
“It was my first kitchen in my first apartment and I wanted something a little healthier than ramen noodles every day,” recalled Nathan. “I really did not know that I was making fajitas or really anything about seasoning chicken. But I knew that I liked garlic, salt, pepper and lemons; so why not put them together and wrap it all up in a tortilla? Later I added in some bell peppers and zucchini. Once I began working at Melissa’s and learned about tastier ingredients, I subbed in the Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers for the bells and zucchini. Now this is my GO-TO date-night-in meal – and the leftovers, if there are any, I can take to the office for lunch the next day!”
A fajita, according to a Tex-Mex glossary, is any grilled meat that is served as a taco on a flour or corn tortilla. A definition that certainly allows for all sorts of culinary interpretations, so there is really no singular “right” [or wrong] way to make a fajita. Even an Internet image search of the word will produce an array of presentations from a buffet table of build-your-own components to sizzling-hot skillets of assorted veggies mixed with strips of meat or poultry and, always, the ever-present tortillas.
While Nathan’s recipe is a very short list of common pantry ingredients, there is no skimping on flavor and the dish really is a great way for the beginner cook to gain some confidence in the kitchen. And if Nathan’s ramen reminisces strike a familiar cord with those of you struggling in your own first kitchens, here’s a tasty and easy starter recipe that is sure to break the “ramen rut” in the time it takes to warm up one tortilla! Plus, if a cast iron skillet or actual fajita pan is used to both cook and serve this dish straight off the flame, even an inexperienced cook can replicate the professional chef’s traditional sizzling fajita restaurant presentation at home!
This month marks Nathan Rodriguez’s one-year anniversary with Melissa’s and his graduation from rookie status! The company’s Food Service Department supplies a gambit of accounts from national restaurant companies catering to large sports and entertainment venues, to the corporate kitchens of the hotel industry, as well as many well-known chefs and fine dining eateries throughout Southern California and Las Vegas. Every customer, depending upon the kind of business or event being supplied, has different fresh produce needs and quality criteria standards – Nathan follows through to make sure that every order reflects exactly what the customer has asked for. It’s a job of and about tending to the details and the key to ensuring client satisfaction and, most importantly, repeat business.
“My role is to maintain constant communications between Food Service and the rest of the company’s departments to fill the special orders of our clients. Each of our food service customers have preferences so I will work with procurement, setup, and the pack line, as well as with quality control and inventory management to make sure those preferences are fulfilled,” explained Nathan, adding. “For me the interesting and challenging part of the job has been learning about and keeping updated on the hundreds of produce items that come in from around the world daily. That knowledge is critical in matching the quality and condition of these items to each customer’s order. For example one chef may want ripened avocados to make guacamole while another may request a much firmer fruit for avocado toast. While Melissa’s may be a large company, it is my job to make it smaller, so to speak; that is, to make sure that every customer’s needs gets heard and executed. It makes each day both challenging and rewarding when it all goes right…sort of fun too!”
When the day of chasing down customer requests is done, Nathan admits that his most favorite past-time is to eat popcorn. More specifically, while lounging in a plush, surround-sound theater seat, watching the latest silver screen blockbuster, usually accompanied by girlfriend Jessica. We’re talking serious popcorn munching…
“In 2015 I started keeping track of how many movies I have seen. To date, the count is a bit over 200 movies and I have probably spent enough at the snack bar to own it twice!” Nathan recounted. “My favorite genre of movie is a good comedy, though my vote for all-time best flick goes to a true and touching story starring Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). Still, I think movie comedies are the most fun experiences and are meant to be shared with others. Ha, ha, I think I sometimes drag Jessica along just so I am not laughing alone!”
Nathan’s Chicken Fajita
1lb Chicken Breast, sliced into ¼” wide strips
2 TBS vegetable oil
½ lb. Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers, seeded, sliced thin lengthwise
½ Red Onion, sliced
1 tsp Lemon Pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
2 TBS Lemon juice
Mise en Place: Prepare all ingredients before starting to cook this recipe.
Heat oil in an iron skillet or fajita pan, sauté chicken strips over medium heat for 4 minutes. Then add the rest of the ingredients, continue to sauté the mixture at high heat, constantly stirring, for another 5-10 minutes.
Plating:Serve immediately in the same skillet, family style, along with a stack of warm flour or corn tortillas. [Plus a cold cerveza, of course!]