To understand food, we need to understand the history behind it and vice versa. According to historians, Cinco de Mayo marks the 1862 battle in Puebla, Mexico, when a small, outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French. Yet Cinco de Mayo isn’t the anniversary of the defeat and expulsion of the French forces by the Mexicans. That actually occurred in 1867.
Though Cinco de Mayo is celebrated regionally in Mexico, especially in Puebla, this is a holiday that is much more widely celebrated in the United States, especially by Mexican-Americans.
HIGHLIGHTS OF CINCO DE MAYO
People celebrate by gathering around food, drinks, and music to celebrate the culture, achievements, and experiences of those with a Mexican background who live in the United States.
The main cities with the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations are Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco, San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver and El Paso, where a large proportion of the population has Mexican origins.
WHAT’S ON THE CINCO DE MAYO MENU?
Since without food there’s no party and I like keeping things a bit classic, simple and fresh, let’s start with the following: some guacamole, some homemade tortillas, mole poblano, nachos, tacos, margaritas, and why not a communal Mexican casserole.
Read Related: The Story Behind Cinco de Mayo
8 oz blue (or yellow) corn tortilla chips, organic, Non-GMO
3 jalapeños, seeded, thinly sliced
1 cup red onion, diced
6 oz Swiss (or Cheddar/Provolone) cheese, finely grated
6 oz Oaxaca cheese, finely grated
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Chives, finely chopped to garnish (optional and as desired)
2 cups fresh salsa or, well, tomato sauce
2 cups sour cream
2 cups fresh guacamole
1. Preheat oven to 350º F and place the oven racks on the lowest shelf.
2. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Lay a third of the chips on the pan.
3. Top each chip with a jalapeño slice and sprinkle with a third of the onions, 1/3 of the cheeses. Repeat with the remaining chips.
4. Bake for about 7-10 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble.
5. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve immediately with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and extra chips on the side.
Yields: 6 Servings
The base ingredients of an authentic mole can be grouped into five distinct categories:
• Sweet (dried fruits & sugar)
• Sour (tomatillos)
• Thickeners (nuts & tortillas)
These base ingredients are all roasted and ground into a paste or fine powder. If done by hand, like it is still traditionally done in Mexico, this process can be quite long and laborious. Nevertheless, whether you choose to do it by hand or not, make sure you get all your ingredients ready before you start cooking!
½-1 plantain, fried
8 pieces of chicken, any parts
4 oz chile mulato
3 oz chile pasilla
4½-5 oz unsalted almonds, toasted
2 oz raisins
1 medium yellow or white onion, julienne and sauté
1 oz dark semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 oz chile seeds, toasted
1 tortilla, sauté
½ bread roll, sauté or fried
1 tsp. fresh black pepper
¼ tsp. cloves, ground
1 tsp. cilantro seeds, toasted
1 tsp. anise seeds
3-4 cup chicken broth (cooking liquid from the bird)
10 garlic cloves, sauté, braised or roasted
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or lard
Sea salt or kosher to taste (after adding broth)
Fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 200º F.
2. In a large pot, cook chicken in enough water to cover the bird. (Save the cooking liquid for later.) Add parsley and season with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, in a baking sheet toast the chiles in the oven for 10 minutes or until fragrant. (Don’t let them burn!) Remove from the oven, let them cool and grind in a coffee mill or grind using a mortar and pestle.
4. Using a blender, process the rest of the ingredients except for the butter, adjusting the consistency adding water or cooking liquid. Strain the mixture and set aside.
5. Using an earthenware pot over low heat, add the butter or lard and melt. Add the chiles and cook for 5-7 minutes.
6. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the broth. Season to taste, combine and stir to blend for another 5-7 minutes. Add the broth; taste and season accordingly.
7. Add the chicken broth to the sauce and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let it cook stirring constantly for about 3-5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
8. Serve over chicken and/or with rice, and fresh lime on the side.
GRILLED STEAK TACOS WITH FRESH CILANTRO LIME SAUCE
¾ cup peanut oil
1 cup teriyaki sauce
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs skirt steak
Grated Jack cheese
Cilantro lime sauce (Recipe below)
Red onions, chopped
Fresh cilantro, chopped
1. Combine the oil, teriyaki sauce, and garlic.
2. Pour over skirt steak, coat on all sides and store in refrigerator overnight (preferably in a glass container).
3. Remove steak from refrigerator about 15 minutes before cooking. Preheat grill to medium high. Discard marinade.
4. Grill steak about 4 minutes per side or until cooked as desired.
5. Steak should have grill marks and be pink in the center. Chop steak for tacos.
6. Heat tortillas serve with remaining ingredients.
CILANTRO LIME SAUCE
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Sea salt or Kosher to taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor until nearly smooth but with still some texture.
Tacos recipe and photo courtesy Chef Isabel Cruz