Lettuce Eat Local: Cinco De Mayonnaise

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Amanda Miller
Columnist

Lettuce Eat Local

 

If Brian and I have a meal that’s “ours,” one that we tend to gravitate towards, it’s fajitas. It kind of covers all the bases: we like to eat it, we like to make it, we like to serve it to guests. It can be cobbled together last minute, or made ahead; just the basics, or all sorts of extras. Everyone gets to make their own, so it works for different taste preferences and allergy restrictions, and is endlessly customizable. 

In fact, perhaps its only problem is that when I say “it,” what do I mean? What are fajitas? We could look up dictionary definitions, see restaurant menus, reference culinary sources, check the Spanish etymology, ask some Latino households, poll friends — we could do all these, and still not come to a conclusive decision. 

I say “could,” but honestly, Brian and I have done most if not all of those things in our quest for the meaning of fajitas. For a meal so near and dear to our hearts and stomachs, you would think we would have more agreement on what it actually is. There are a lot of “usually”s in reference to fajitas, as in they usually include meat cut in strips, usually involve sauteed peppers, and usually come served with beans. 

Except for when they don’t. 

There are all the exceptions — as soon as you think you come to a consensus, myriad examples to the contrary appear. In fact, the most constant component is probably tortillas, and then how are they different from burritos or soft tacos? And are fajita bowls an oxymoron then? Because that’s what I usually eat when I make fajitas…so if I’m serving fajitas for supper, and I’m eating supper, how am I not eating fajitas? What if Benson chomps on the tortilla plain and just eats the filling separately, is he actually eating an entirely different meal too? 

The questions go on and on. I’m not kidding, I could easily fill the rest of this article with existential questions about fajitas. Considering the lack of accord even after our family’s many discussions on the topic, however, I concede that it may not be the most uplifting endeavor. Brian and I have come to the place where we (and the rest of the culinary world apparently) agree to have disagreements on what exactly makes them themselves; so our house fajitas can contain any arrangement of any assortment of meats, salsas, cheeses, tortillas, beans, veggies, rice…or not. Often I try to avoid titling the meal at all, instead announcing the array with, “Here’s food!” 

We at least know fajitas are Mexican, right? Ha, even there there’s no easy answer. They are, because they are eaten in and associated with Mexico, but actually they originate from Texas. But the very recent Cinco de Mayo is Mexican; meaning the fifth of May, this holiday is the annual celebration of Mexico’s victory in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla over the Second French Empire. Those of us who don’t have much cultural heritage with the history of Cinco de Mayo see it as a beautiful excuse to eat Mexican, or at least Mexican-ish, food. 

But because I don’t want to start another battle, I obviously can’t give a recipe for fajitas. Quesadillas are from Mexico, and entail far less controversy, so after all that, here you go. ¡Buen provecho!

Cerdo de Mayo Quesadillas

Quesadillas may be Mexican and much easier to define than fajitas (tortillas sandwiched with stuff?), but clearly these are not authentic. I am having too much fun playing with my food and my words; “cerdo” means pork and “Mayo” does mean May, except in this case it means mayonnaise, because that’s what I want. Quesadilla means “little cheesy thing,” so keep your priorities in mind when you’re making these. The mayo might seem odd, but I wanted something creamy but not as robust as sour cream or tangy as yogurt, and I’m going to start doing this more often.

Prep tips: we had extra of this pork all the ways this week: on rice, as tacos (or burritos or fajitas?), tossed in salad. So good.

2 pounds boneless pork butt or shoulder, cut in 1” chunks

1 [15-oz] can pineapple tidbits, packed in juice

¼ red onion

½ green bell pepper and/or deseeded jalapeño

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

to assemble: tortillas, mayonnaise, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro 

Add pork to a baking dish in a single layer. Top with about half the pineapple chunks, and pour the rest (including the juice!) into a blender. Add the onion, pepper(s), salt, and pepper, and blend until smooth; pour over pork. Bake at 425° for about 40 minutes, until tender. Let meat rest, then shred or chop it, and return to pan juices. 

To serve: spread a tortilla with mayonnaise, toss it into a hot greased skillet; top it with a good amount of pork, cheese, and cilantro, and then a second tortilla. Fry until toasted on the bottom, then carefully flip and fry the other side. Remove from heat, and repeat as necessary for all your quesadillas. 

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