Have you ever added spice to something with slight trepidation in your heart? Gently shaking ground cayenne pepper on chicken cutlets or lightly tossing extra sriracha into a steaming wok of fried noodles, all the while afraid that the outcome may be too hot to handle. We like kick in our food, but we have accidentally added a bit too much, and once it’s in there, it’s hard to cut. Call us wimps if you like, but we just can’t handle it. We try to ride the line between spicy tingle and burnin’ ring ‘o fire mouth. Although we both come from a line of folks who like to toss on those ‘kick your a$$ to high heaven’ or ‘not for wussy wimps’ hot sauces, we just haven’t been able to work our way up to sweating while we’re eating. It’s not our style. We hit the kitchen with a desire for something that would ride the line without sitting too far on either side–not too bland and definitely not overwhelming.
We wanted fajitas. Hot and spicy fajitas…just not too spicy! We crunched a piece of jalapeno pepper to test how hot it is, which we totally recommend. Some peppers are killers and some leave you wanting for more. The ones we picked had a nice back end heat, so we felt comfortable using two. Had it been one or two notches hotter, we may have opted for just a bit less. Another way to balance heat is to up the ante on another side of the taste spectrum. Sweet and sour work very well to cut spice! The agave nectar and lime juice in this recipe really calm the potential intensity of the peppers and other spices. The third way to cool heat is with milk fats. Why do you think sour cream, coconut milk and yogurt get paired with or served alongside so many spicy, ethnic dishes? We added a tiny bit of sour cream to our beans on the side to smooth them out and soothe the mouth.
Chicken and Cotija Fajitas with Creamy Cilantro Refried Beans – Serves 4
1 pound chicken breast, sliced into 1-inch pieces
2 bell peppers, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1 1/4 cups cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
5 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons agave nectar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 8-inch flour tortillas, warm
4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled
16 ounces fat free refried beans (These wereTrader Joe’s black bean and jalapeno version!)
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
Zest of 2 limes
1/4 cup light sour cream
1. Combine chili powder, jalapenos, garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, lime juice, agave nectar, grapeseed oil, red onion, bell peppers and cilantro in a very large bowl. Add chicken, cover and marinate at least 2 hours or overnight.
2. Heat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add marinated chicken and vegetables. Cook until chicken juices run clear and veggies have softened slightly, approximately 5-7 minutes.
3. Pour beans into a saucepan, break up slightly and turn heat to medium low. Cook until beans are hot and small bubbles appear, approximately 5-7 minutes. At the very end, stir in cilantro, lime juice, zest and sour cream until mixed.
4. Serve chicken with tortillas and top with cotija cheese and refried beans on the side.
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