Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Foolish consistency

Having just finished writing about how a dictatorial approach to cooking misses the point, I’m now going to contradict myself and talk about having a meal schedule.

(I like to tell myself that it’s the paradoxes in people that make them interesting. I find people who are absolutely consistent all the time are often not very interesting and sometimes a little bit scary.)

I’ve previously alluded to the fact that the meal regimen in my house growing up was, um, a little bit rigid, and that this has made its mark on me, although I’ve tried to broaden my horizons. I actually think it’s useful to have a rough framework for eating certain things on certain nights; it helps me with meal planning because I’m not starting from absolute zero on coming up with ideas. (Although I realize that other people, including some who grew up in the same house as I did, might find this whole concept too constraining.)

So what does that mean in practical terms? What happens if, say, you go away for the weekend unexpectedly? Well, if you’re me, it means you come home to a hefty piece of steak in your fridge that needs to be used up pronto. That’s because Saturday night, in my family, is Steak Night—one in-law tradition that DP has adopted enthusiastically.

I don’t tend to mess with Steak Night too much, because a) it’s tradition (cue “Fiddler on the Roof” music) and b) I feel a good steak, properly cooked, doesn’t need much embellishment. But, just as it feels odd to have anything else on Steak Night, so does it feel odd to have Steak Night on any night other than Saturday. The upside to that constraint is that it provides scope to do something a bit different with the same old main ingredient when you get it outside its assigned spot on the rota.

Steak Fajitas
Last time I made this, I realized that it’s like a Mexican stir-fry—once you get everything sliced and assembled, it all comes together very quickly.

2 Tbsp cooking oil of your choice (I use light olive oil)
1 large or 2 small onions, sliced
1 large red pepper/capsicum, sliced
1 lb/450 g rump steak, cut crosswise in half-inch/1 cm slices**
Ground cumin

Heat a large grill pan, skillet, wok, sauté pan or similar until very hot. Add oil, then vegetables. Cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to soften (3-5 minutes). Add steak and continue stirring until the steak is cooked to your liking (medium rare: another 3-5 minutes). Season to taste with paprika and ground cumin. Serve immediately, either bringing the loudly sizzling pan to the table (in the manner of Mexican restaurants everywhere), or transferring meat and veg to a warmed bowl, so that everyone can construct their own fajitas.

To serve***
Warmed tortillas (estimate two per person, plus a couple extra)
At least 1 cup grated cheese (I use sharp cheddar)
Cut limes, for squeezing over

Place a reasonable amount of the fajita mixture, enhanced by some or all of the listed condiments, in the middle of a tortilla. Fold over in the manner of a burrito, and eat with your hands. No matter what I do, mine always leak, but I don’t care.

Serves 4.

* I forgot to take a picture of the finished product before we ate it all, so here’s a completely random picture of an echidna (the Australian porcupine/hedgehog) instead.
** This can easily be made veggie, either by just leaving out the steak or substituting tofu, tempeh, portobello mushrooms, etc.
*** This list traditionally includes sour cream, but I usually ignore that. Just FYI.


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