Sizzling Fajitas–The Perfect Tex-Mex Meal
Fajitas in some form have been around for nearly 100 years. Made from skirt steak (an inexpensive cut at the time), fajitas have humble beginnings. The throwaway skirt steak was given to Mexican cowboys as part of their pay during cattle drives in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in the 1930s. The vaqueros grilled plain steak, sliced it and wrapped the slices in a tortilla. They called this a fajita, meaning little strip or band. This style of fajita continued until the early 1970s when Ninfa Laurenza started serving them.
Who was Ninfa?
Ninfa Laurenza’s life story could be a Hollywood movie or at least a soap opera with all the challenges she faced. Widowed at age 45 with 5 children and a struggling tortilla and pizza dough business to run in Houston, Ninfa needed a way to support her family. So she did what she did best—she cooked!
Ninfa’s on Navigation
In 1973, Ninfa’s on Navigation was born. With banks turning her down, Ninfa borrowed money from a friend in Mexico. Ninfa bought second-hand furniture, used pots and pans from her home, and carved out space in her tortilla and pizza dough factory for a 10-table restaurant. She and her four oldest children started out serving tacos al carbon–her special seasoned skirt steak wrapped in her homemade flour tortillas. Ninfa then turned those tacos into what we know as modern day fajitas–with guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream served on the side.
It wasn’t long before celebrities, socialites, and laborers lined up to eat at Ninfa’s. Not only was her food authentic but so was Ninfa. She warmly welcomed her guests and enjoyed spending time talking with of all of them. Everyone loved Mama Ninfa!
It was her recipe that many Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants began copying. By the 1980s, sizzling fajitas seemed to be on every Tex-Mex restaurant menu. Their popularity continues today.
During the prime of her business, Ninfa owned over 30 restaurants. She was ranked among the five most recognized women in Houston. She was involved with many philanthropic organizations throughout the city of Houston for many years. Sadly, Ninfa Laurenzo passed away in 2001 at age 77 after battling breast cancer. Her business was sold, but her name, her recipes and her legacy continue at Ninfa’s restaurants.
What’s in Ninfa’s Fajitas
- orange zest
- lemon zest
- fresh lemon juice
- pineapple juice
- soy sauce
- minced garlic
- black pepper
- dried chiles de arbol
- skirt steaks (outside cut)
- red bell pepper
- white or yellow onion
- flour tortillas
How to Make Ninfa’s Fajitas
- Using a zester or Microplane, zest the orange and lemon.
- In a small bowl, combine zest, water, pineapple juice, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper and chiles.
- Reserve about 1/4 cup marinade.
- Remove any membrane or skin from the meat. There shouldn’t be much.
- Place the steak in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. Turn to coat evenly.
- Marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
- Remove the steaks from the bag. Pat dry.
- Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes.
- If using an outdoor grill:
- Heat the grill to high heat.
- Sprinkle steak with salt.
- Grill the meat for 2-4 minutes on each side.
- Remove and let steak rest for about 10 minutes.
- Slice into strips.
- If using a skillet:
- Heat the skillet over high heat for 4 minutes.
- Add1 Tablespoon vegetable oil.
- Sprinkle steak with salt and sear in the skillet, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
- Remove and let steak rest for about 10 minutes.
- Slice into strips
- After grill or skillet:
- Heat the skillet to medium heat as the meat is resting.
- Add 1 Tablespoon oil.
- Place peppers and onions in the skillet.
- Cook until slightly softened, 5 to 6 minutes.
- Return steak to skillet and stir to combine.
- Add the reserved marinade to the skillet.
- Serve with guacamole, pico de gallo and other favorite toppings.
Other Tex-Mex Favorites
Ninfa's Beef Fajitas
- 1 large orange zested
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup pineapple juice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 Tablespoon black pepper
- 2 dried chiles de arbol crushed
- 2 skirt steaks 3/4 inch thick (outside cut)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 red bell pepper stemmed and seeded, then sliced 1/2-inch-thick
- 1 yellow onion sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 10 flour tortillas
- Using a zester or Microplane, ZEST the orange and lemon.
- In a small bowl, COMBINE zest, water, pineapple juice, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper and chiles. Reserve about 1/4 cup marinade.
- REMOVE any membrane or skin from the meat.
- PLACE the steak in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. TURN to coat evenly. MARINATE in the fridge for at least 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
- REMOVE the steaks from the bag. PAT dry. Bring to room temperature (30 minutes).
- If using an outdoor grill: HEAT grill to high heat. GRILL meat for 2-4 minutes on each side.
- If using a skillet: HEAT skillet over high heat for 4 minutes. ADD 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil. SPRINKLE steak with salt and SEAR in the skillet, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. REMOVE and let steak REST for about 10 minutes. SLICE into strips.
- HEAT skillet as the meat is resting. ADD 1 Tablespoon oil. PLACE peppers and onions in the skillet. COOK until slightly softened, 5 to 6 minutes. RETURN steak to skillet. ADD the reserved marinade to the skillet. SERVE with favorite toppings.