The Sizzling History of Fajitas

BY: 
Catherine A. Jones
 | May 2, 2024

Fajitas, with their sizzling sounds and tantalizing aromas, are the Tex-Mex dish enjoyed by foodies around the world. But how did these flavorful, grilled meat and vegetable wraps come to be? Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, we explore the sizzling history of fajitas, from humble beginnings to culinary stardom.

Sizzling History of Fajitas

The story of fajitas begins with the vaqueros (cowboys) and ranch hands who worked on cattle ranches in Texas during the late 19th century.

These hard working individuals needed hearty meals that were easy to prepare and could sustain them during long days of labor.

So they would grill thin strips of beef (often skirt steak) over an open fire. The meat was seasoned with simple ingredients like garlic, onion, and chili pepper. These early versions of fajitas were practical and flavorful.

The Evolution of Flavor

By the 1930s, Mexican ranchers living in West Texas had perfected their own version of these grilled beef tacos.

The meat was marinated to enhance tenderness and flavor. The vaqueros would then roll up the marinated beef in a tortilla, creating a portable and satisfying meal. These pre-fajita tacos al carbon (cooked over coals) were a hit among ranch workers and locals alike.

Mama Ninfa’s Influence

The true transformation of fajitas happened thanks to María Ninfa Rodríguez Laurenzo, affectionately known as Mama Ninfa.

In 1969, Mama Ninfa found herself widowed with five young children and a struggling tortilla factory in Houston, Texas. She decided to innovate by serving South Texas-style tacos at her tortilleria. These tacos al carbon were pre-assembled with grilled beef, onions, and peppers. Customers loved the sizzling, flavorful combination. And Mama Ninfa’s restaurant, The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, became a local sensation.

“Neighborhood residents, downtown businessmen, politicians, and Houston socialites clamored to eat at Ninfa’s,” the Houston Chronicle writes. “The restaurant even started to draw celebrities like John Travolta, Rock Hudson, Michael Douglas, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Reba McEntire and ZZ Top.”

The Name “Fajita”

The term “fajita” itself has an interesting origin. It comes from the Spanish word “faja,” which means “belt” or “girdle.”

The cut of beef used for fajitas is known as skirt steak, which resembles a belt or sash.

Mama Ninfa’s innovation turned this humble cut of meat into a Tex-Mex icon.

From Local Favorite to Global Dish

As Mama Ninfa’s restaurant gained popularity, so did fajitas. Soon, other Tex-Mex eateries began offering their own versions.

Fajitas made their way onto menus across the United States, and eventually, international restaurants embraced this flavorful dish.

While the classic fajita features beef, variations now include chicken, shrimp, and even vegetarian options.

The sizzling platter of grilled meat, onions, and bell peppers remains a hallmark of fajitas, whether served in a restaurant or prepared at home.

Cinco de Mayo Vegan Fajitas

From fajitas and tacos to everything in between, fueling your Cinco de Mayo fiesta starts with delicious food that brings everyone to the table. Traditional dishes and new twists on classics can be equally satisfying whether you’re feeding your nearest and dearest or hosting the entire neighborhood.

This year, we suggest serving up these Vegan Apple and Black Bean Fajitas for a plant-forward spin on a popular dish that features sauteed apples, peppers, zucchini, jicama, onion and jalapeno.

The craveable texture and crunch of Envy Apples – a leading apple variety available at Whole Foods and other major grocery stores – shine both in the mixture of sauteed produce and sliced raw into sticks for a crunchy finish with added sweetness.

Vegan Apple and Black Bean Fajitas

Ingredients:

1 bell pepper, sliced, seeds removed
1 zucchini, sliced
1 small jicama, sliced
3 Envy Apples, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 jalapeno, sliced, seeds removed
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 sprigs fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chili pepper (optional)
salt, to taste (optional)
pepper, to taste (optional) 
1 cup cooked black beans
1 lime
3 sprigs fresh cilantro
4 small flour tortillas

Directions:

In a skillet over high heat, saute bell pepper, zucchini, jicama and half the apple slices. Set aside. 

In the same hot skillet, saute onions, jalapenos and garlic until lightly caramelized. Combine with sauteed apple mixture. Season with cumin and oregano. Add chili powder and salt and pepper, to taste, if desired.

Add cooked black beans to saute mixture. Top with a squeeze of lime. Garnish with cilantro and remaining raw apple slices.

Serve with tortillas.

To find more recipes for family meals and beyond, visit EnvyApple.com.

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