It is clearly high season in Santa Fé. Nearly everyone has visitors, and tourists jam the Plaza. Our own first visitors were two of our grandchildren, and so we tried to have kid-friendly meals that they could help make. When their parents came to visit and pick up their kids, we planned an easy meal for their arrival. We needed something that could wait in case their plane was late. Fajitas came to mind, so I started getting them ready the day before their arrival. The first thing to do was to trim and marinate the skirt steak. Skirt steak, called arracheras by Mexican cooks, is actually the diaphragm muscle which separates the chest and abdominal cavities. It is well-flavored but tough, so it has to be prepared to make it tender. The first thing to do is to strip off the pleura and peritoneum (the linings of the chest and abdominal cavities respectively). That is an easy but necessary step, using a sharp, pointed knife to cut at the demarcation line between the steak and the fibrous linings. An overnight soak in marinade, followed by grilling over hot coals are additional steps to create a tender meat for the fajitas. I got the recipe for the tequila marinade from The Sunset Southwest Cook Book (Lane Publishing Co., Menlo Park, CA, 1987, p. 45). If you don’t want to use tequila, just substitute more lime juice.
I had to deal with some of the food dislikes within the family. Some don’t like onions or even things that touch onions. Some can’t tolerate piquant chiles because of food sensitivities. Some don’t like avocados. Because of all these variables, I grilled the onions separately from the meat. Instead of classic pico de gallo (rooster’s beak), I made what I call pico de gallina (hen’s beak) without the jalapeños. I omitted the guacamole, but I would encourage you to include it in your choices of fillings.
In the end, everyone seemed to enjoy the modified fajitas.
The next day we became inveterate tourists, trying to pack in as many events as possible.
There are lots of things to choose from: the Santa Fé Opera is high on the list, the Chamber Music Festival, dancing on the Plaza, riding the Rail Runner train, visiting the Bandelier ruins, hiking in the mountains, visiting the Shidoni Foundry, swimming at the community center, visiting the many museums, and eating, eating, eating.
The first day of the visit we went to one of our favorite restaurants, Babaluu’s Cocina Cubana, a quirky place away from town with great Cuban food. My daughter and I went to Whole Foods for the picnic for our tailgate dinner that evening at the opera. The opera tailgate is totally unlike the ones you may have attended at a football game. People show up in tuxedos and long gowns with candelabra, white tablecloths, fancy silver, and elaborate food on tables in the middle of the parking lot. Years ago we spent hours getting ready a fancy feast, but we now just go to the market for wine and food.
Following our festive meal, some of us went to the opening of La Traviata. It was our twelve-year-old granddaughter’s first opera and she was excited. She watched intently to the end and shed a few tears when Violetta died.
The next day my wife and I visited the Opera Ranch, the grounds of the Santa Fé Opera where singers, musicians, and technicians gather, practice, and enjoy the beauty of the area. Afterward we had lunch at the Tesuque (Te-su’-kay) Village Market, a combination country store, wine shop, gourmet bakery, and rustic café serving typical Northern New Mexico meals like huevos rancheros and green chile cheeseburgers. It is very popular with locals.
The kids enjoyed the Shidoni Foundry where bronze sculptures are cast on commission from all over the world. The sculpture garden is filled with some amazing, interesting, and beautiful pieces. The foundry is near the end of Bishop’s Lodge Road, named after Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, a Frenchman who built a French-styled cathedral on the plaza of very Spanish/Mexican Santa Fé. He had a beautiful summer retreat along the road; the retreat has subsequently become a posh resort. The archbishop was also the model for the protagonist in Willa Cather’s famous novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop.
The kids and their parents rode the Rail Runner train. We shopped on the Plaza. We took a short hike in the mountains until we retreated in a thunderstorm. We had another great meal at another favorite restaurant, Taberna La Boca. Finally my daughter made her famous “Law School Chicken” at the kids’ request. My granddaughter specifically forbade me from writing about “their secret family recipe.”
Then time ran out, and the visit was over.
½ cup fresh lime juice
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup tequila (may substitute lime juice)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano leaves
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients.
- Set aside until ready to marinate skirt steak
Pico de Gallina
2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- juice of 1 lime
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
- 1-2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and chopped (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to use
2 pounds skirt steak, trimmed of membranes
- 1 batch tequila marinade (recipe above)
- 3 bell peppers (red, yellow, or green) seeded and sliced into strips
- 2 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced into strips
- 1 dozen large flour tortillas
- 1 batch pico de gallina (recipe above)
- sour cream
- Combine the steak and marinade in a plastic zip bag. Refrigerate overnight, turning frequently to coat the steak on all sides.
- When you are ready to cook the fajitas, prepare a hot fire in either a charcoal or gas grill.
- Place the steak over the hot fire. Grill for about 7 minutes. Then turn over and grill for an additional 7 minutes. Baste frequently with reserved marinade.
- Meanwhile, place the sliced peppers and onions in a fire-proof grilling basket and place on the grill. Stir or turn occasionally until caramelized on all sides.
- When the steak is done, transfer to a cutting board. Arrange the grilled vegetables in a serving bowl.
- Rest the steak, covered with aluminum foil for 5 minutes before slicing thinly on the bias.
- Meanwhile, warm the tortillas.
- Invite each diner to make his or her own fajita with sliced steak and grilled vegetables on a warmed tortilla. Add pico de gallina and/or sour cream as desired.
- In a group that is not avocado-averse, fresh guacamole is a welcome addition.
- Roll and eat.