My neighborhood is the greatest. Big trees. Old-ish houses. Expansive, fenced back yards. People mow their lawns instead of parking in them. A few people even edge their lawns, but no one expects that of the households with young children. Which is good. Because if we lived in one of those neighborhoods where the “association” sends out sternly worded letters if you leave your garage door open for an entire day or allow birds to build a chaotic nest in your eaves or abandon your kids’ riding toys in the street or fail to weed your flower beds for three full years…well, we’d be kicked out.
No, this isn’t that place.
This is a place where, if you have a new baby or spend the evening in the ER with a sick child or have unexpected surgery, your family will be fed…enthusiastically (dessert included)…for several days…until all the neighborhood mommas have had a turn feeding them. And then you will return everyone’s dishes with thank-you notes taped to them, as you deliver your kids to school and get back to normal over the next week or so.
I haven’t had any babies in this neighborhood, which is kind of a bummer, because I think my neighbors seem to be pretty good cooks. But over the past year or so, I’ve fed three new moms on the street and a couple of others, as well. (One perk of delivering dinner to women with brand new babies is that you almost always get to steal a quick snuggle and remind yourself of how tiny and toasty newborns are, like squirmy little puppies, all ribcages and tucked-in legs.)
This is the dish I’ve chosen as my feed-the-neighbors meal. I know fajitas are probably a little out of fashion, but they are still a family favorite of ours; plus, since everyone assembles his or her own fajita, the dish is customizable by its recipients. Also, it travels well, and the recipe easily expands and contracts to make the right number to feed as many mouths as it needs to.
This version will feed one family, though the pictures show what happens if you double the quantity of chicken breasts so you can share with your neighbors.
Chicken Fajitas with Caramelized Onions
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 fat lime
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed through a press
Fajita spice blend: 2 parts chili powder, 1 part cumin, 2 parts salt, 1 part oregano, 1 part sugar (I like turbinado sugar, but any kind will work)
3 pound bag of onions, caramelized (Click here for my caramelized onion recipe)
4 large bell peppers or a whole bag of little sweet peppers, which is what I used here
10 flour tortillas
salsa (Click here for my daughter’s special salsa)
1. Marinate your chicken breasts for an hour or so in the juice of your fat lime, your olive oil, and your crushed garlic.
2. While it’s marinating, go ahead and start caramelizing your onions. They will take a while. I actually cooked this batch down so far they almost turned into pure sugar and vanished. Caramelize your entire 3-pound bag and cook them down until you have about 1 1/2 to 2 cups.
3. Fire up the grill to medium-high and scrub the crud off of it. Mix up your spice mix, as much as you want. I typically use 1 part=1 tablespoon, but it can’t hurt to make more. After all, they are dried spices, and they store well. Just keep any leftovers in a plastic bag for next time. (I realize it sounds weird to add sugar, but that sugar will help to create a golden crust that seals the moisture into your spicy grilled chicken. It will not taste sweet.)
4. Rub your chicken breasts with a generous quantity of spice rub, on both sides. Then pop them onto your clean, hot grill.
5. Add your bell peppers to your caramelized onions, stir them together and put a lid or a piece of foil over the pan to help the peppers wilt a bit. You don’t want to cook them to smithereens–just until tender crisp. Add a generous sprinkle of salt once they are tender.
6. Cook your chicken breasts until they are firm to the touch. How long this takes will depend upon your grill’s heat and your chicken’s girth. You want to achieve a bit of char but don’t overcook them or they will be dry. (Of course, you should check one or two representative breasts for doneness because you don’t want to mess around with undercooked poultry, but you know that already.) Remove them from the grill, tent them with foil, and allow them to rest for at least five minutes.
7. Heat your tortillas, wrapped in foil, in a warm oven. Get your toppings ready to go and your table set. Then thinly slice your chicken breasts, on a bias to make them pretty if you’re up to it. I always use a super-sharp serrated bread knife to avoid tearing the meat. Collect any juices that run out and all the juices that have gathered in the plate as the meat rested. Add those juices to your onions and peppers. Then stir in your sliced chicken.
8. Eat up.