By Anne Palumbo
Some folks never forget their first kiss: I’ll never forget my first flank steak. It happened in a Mexican restaurant. The lights were low, the guitars were thrumming, and the thin slices of steak in my fajita made me weak in the taste buds.
Since that fateful night—and especially now during grilling season—I often reach for flank steak. But taste alone is not driving this meat crush: nutrition is, too. Deemed a “lean” cut, flank steak has less fat and fewer calories than, say, some of the beef cuts marbled with fat (porterhouse, ribeye, strip steak).
Flank steak is packed with protein, with a 3.5-ounce portion delivering over half of our daily needs. Protein is often referred to as the building block of life because of its central role in the growth, development and maintenance of cells. Not getting enough of this powerhouse nutrient can lead to a variety of health issues: muscle loss, fatigue, thinning hair, a weakened immune system, and more. Adequate protein intake is especially important as we age to help maintain strength, posture and mobility.
This flavorful steak, like most beef, sizzles with impressive amounts of niacin and respectable amounts of vitamins B6 and B12. All together, these essential nutrients aid in red blood cell production, help convert food to energy and promote healthy nervous and digestive systems. Since B12 deficiency is common among the elderly—whether through diet or poor absorption—it’s good to know that beef is an excellent source of this beneficial B vitamin.
Eating flank steak also boosts your intake of selenium, zinc, phosphorous and iron. These important minerals each provide a valuable function: selenium gobbles up cell-damaging free radicals; zinc fortifies the immune system; phosphorous keeps bones and teeth strong and healthy; and iron provides energy and mental clarity.
What this cut doesn’t sizzle with is fat, particularly saturated fat. An average serving contains 7.5 grams total fat, with only 3 grams saturated fat. As a comparison, ribeye steak has 22 grams total fat, with 9 grams saturated fat. Foods that are high in saturated fats raise our total blood cholesterol and unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels—levels that, over time, contribute to clogged arteries and an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. Consuming no more than 15 grams of saturated fat a day is the recommended amount.
Flank Steak Fajitas with Sautéed Peppers
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
1 ½ pounds flank steak
2 ½ tablespoons canola or olive oil, divided
3 bell peppers (multiple colors), cut into strips
1 medium red onion, sliced
Flour tortillas, warmed
Optional toppings: salsa, guacamole, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro
Preheat grill to medium high.
Heat oven to 350F; wrap a stack of five tortillas in a packet of foil and put in oven for 15 minutes (can do multiple packets at same time).
In a small bowl combine chili powder, cumin, garlic and onion powders, paprika, salt, pepper, and cayenne (if using). Brush steak with 1 tablespoon oil, then rub about half the spice mixture into both sides of the meat. Add steak to grill and cook, flipping once until desired doneness (about 4-5 minutes per side). Let rest for 10 minutes.
While steak is resting, heat remaining oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell peppers, onion and remaining spice mixture; sauté until tender crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish.
Thinly slice steak against the grain and serve on a warm tortilla with bell-pepper mixture and desired toppings.
Contrary to popular belief, marinating meat for hours on end does not equal greater tenderization, since marinades don’t really penetrate much beyond the surface of the meat. Long soaks, in fact, can turn the outermost layer of meat mushy, not tender. Much like dry rubs, marinades mainly add flavor. For lean meats like flank steak, chefs recommend using a meat tenderizing mallet, grilling over high heat (about 4-5 minutes per side), and cutting the meat across the grain into thin slices. Overcooking your flank steak will render it tough; and slicing with the grain will result in an unpleasantly chewy steak.
Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.