My first job interview was at a tiny daily newspaper in West Virginia.

The editor took me to dinner the night before. He complimented my choice of blackened chicken as an entree.

Then he complimented some more.

“Is that a new suit?” he asked.

“Uh, yes,” I said.

“Your legs wear it well.”

In retrospect, I should have chucked the chicken and the next day’s interview. But young, naive Midwesterner that I was, I gamely choked down my dinner and my indignation.

I never liked blackened chicken after that. To be fair, I wasn’t a huge fan at the time. “Blackened,” “charred,” “reddened” … regardless what you call it, it’s really just burned meat.

I prefer a more sophisticated heat: One built on spice rather than fire. That’s why I love these fajitas. Thin strips of chicken breast rest in a bath of olive oil, citrus and all matter of spices, then get grilled just until done. They’re folded into soft flour tortillas along with meltingly soft onions and red peppers. No char, no smoke, no scorched spices. Just a warm, heat-tinged taste that’s sure to garner compliments.

The appropriate kind.


Chicken Fajitas

  •  1 1/4 pounds chicken tenders
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cilantro or parsley
  • Flour tortillas
  • Purchased salsa, sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese (if desired)

Cut the chicken into 1-inch thick strips. Place it in a bowl, then douse it with olive oil (2-3 tablespoons). Add the chili powder, cumin, oregano and coriander, and stir well. Squeeze half a large lemon over the mixture, season with salt and pepper, then stir everything again. Set the bowl aside.

Cut the red peppers and the onions into strips. Place in a bowl, douse with olive oil and the juice from the other half of the lemon, then sprinkle with the remaining oregano, salt and pepper. Stir well and set aside.

Oil your grill and get it quite hot, or coat a large grill pan with nonstick spray and place it over high heat. Place the chicken strips on the grill or pan in a single layer, being careful not to crowd them. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side, then flip and cook another minute, or until the chicken is done. Remove the strips to a platter or bowl.

Heat a deep saute pan over high heat. Swirl in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add the peppers and onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are quite tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and add the veggies to the chicken. Sprinkle everything with torn cilantro or parsley leaves.

Serve with warm tortillas and the condiments of your choice. You’ll have fajitas for 4-6 people.