May 4, 2004

Small-Time Cooks

Maria and I got to the party late in the afternoon. It was my day off, and we decided to go celebrate Cinco de Mayo with some friends. The place was so full of good food and free beer that the time flew by. Maria and I left early the next morning with just a few hazy memories of the night before.

When we got back to Hyde Park, we wanted to make some of the great food we had eaten the night before, so we made some fajitas and guacamole. Since we were cooking vegetarian, we used some fake chicken strips to add some protein to the dish and made everything else the traditional way.

"Chicken" Fajitas

These serve 3-4

1 package faux chicken strips (LightLife, for example)

1 medium white onion

1 green bell pepper

chili powder


fajita seasoning (Fiesta is a good brand, but it may be hard to find in Chicago)

vegetable oil

juice of half a lime

2 cloves garlic, chopped finely

In a large Ziplock bag, add the faux chicken, 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, and 1/2 teaspoon each of chili powder, cumin, and fajita seasoning. Also, add 1 clove's worth of chopped garlic and a little lime juice. Shake the bag well, and put it in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Cut the onion into thin half rings and the bell pepper into thin strips. Place the cut onion and bell pepper in a second Ziplock bag and add 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon fajita seasoning, the other garlic clove, and a little lime juice. Shake the bag well and marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, too. After everything is marinated, remove the bags from the fridge. Cook the faux chicken in a pan on the stove according to package directions, as each brand may vary a little, and set the faux chicken aside once done cooking. In a large pot, heat a small amount of vegetable oil on high and add the vegetables. Cook on high heat, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are very tender. Add the faux chicken at the very end just to warm it up. Serve with tortillas, grated cheese, salsa, and guacamole.

7-part guacamole

3 ripe avocadoes

2 Tablespoons diced onion

1/2 tomato, diced

2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

1 clove garlic, minced

juice of half a lime

salt and pepper to taste

Scoop the flesh from the avocadoes into a bowl. With a fork, mash the avocado to form the base of the guacamole. Add the ingredients together and mix very well. I like to salt and pepper the tomato as soon as I cut it, since it gives it much more flavor, but you'll need to add more to the guacamole as well. Serve soon, since the avocado will oxidize in the air.

This recipe is based on a popular form of guacamole, served at some restaurants where it's made at your table. Add jalapeƱos for more kick, or replace the lime juice with juice from an orange for a sweeter flavor.

Meat substitutes are not part of every vegetarian's diet, and many people are disappointed when they do not taste like meat or disturbed that they taste a little too much like meat. Generally, they are best used when the taste of the spices used to season the "meat," not the presence of the "meat" itself, forms the basis of the dish. Faux meat is often most valuable as a good source of protein, and you shouldn't count on it to provide lots of flavor. Without the cheese, the meal is vegan. Most tortillas sold in stores are not made with lard, but you should check the package to make sure.