Cooking concept with vegetables and copy space in the middle on wooden background
CINCO DE MAYO
Cinco de Mayo is Spanish for May 5th. Ask most Americans its meaning and they will probably tell you it has something to do with Mexican Independence Day, which it does not. Mexican Independence Day is September 16th.
Interestingly it is a big deal in the United States but not so much in Mexico. In fact, not many in Mexico actually celebrate Cinco de Mayo except for those who live in the Mexican state of Puebla. To people of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo is the commemoration of the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862.
The French army was big and powerful. They were sent to Mexico by Emperor Napoleon III, who was eager to establish a second Mexican empire favorable to the French, an outpost in the New World that would serve as a kind of replacement for all that French land his uncle decided to sell to Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase.
The French army had better training, better equipment, and outnumbered the Mexicans by as much as 10 to 1 by some estimates. At the town called Puebla, the Mexicans won a big victory against this army, holding the road to Mexico City and sending the much vaunted French army heading for the hills. One of the few times Mexico’s army prevailed and a reason for great Mexican pride.
In the 1980s, beer companies, particularly Corona (its name ironically today), recognized there were profits to be made on Cinco de Mayo through selling beer to the rising Latino population in the United States. According to Latina: “Through a series of well-received advertisements, Corona helped transform Cinco de Mayo into an all-day happy hour celebration, encouraging the growing Mexican and Mexican-American population to celebrate their heritage on May 5th by purchasing Mexican beer.”
Corona (and other beer brands such as Dos Equis) still spend massive amounts of money on Cinco de Mayo-related advertising. Drinking Mexican beer has become one of the great Cinco de Mayo traditions for Hispanics and gringos alike along with avocados, tacos, and foods off the grill.
Cinco de Mayo became an official U.S. holiday in 2005, when the U.S. Congress declared it as such and called upon the President of the United States to issue a proclamation that Americans should observe the day by celebrating our shared Mexican-American heritage with “appropriate ceremonies and activities.” No word yet from President Trump.
Some of my favorite recipes for this day:
- Sangrita (with a shrimp)
- Avocado Fries with Chipotle Aioli
- Mexican Lentil Soup
- Posole Blanco with Salsa Colorado
- Grilled Marinated Flank Steak with Lime-chipotle sauce
Makes enough for up to 16 drinks or so served in shot glasses. Depends on your pour of course. This is alcohol free, but you could certainly add a little tequila or mescal. Great little starter for Cinco de Mayo. Top with a grilled shrimp on a pick if you’d like.
2 cups tomato juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice (or to taste)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Dash of Worcestershire sauce, preferably white
Dash of olive brine from a jar of green olives
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Stir ingredients together and chill for at least one hour for flavors to marry. Taste again just before serving and adjust flavors to your taste.
AVOCADO FRIES WITH CHIPOTLE AIOLI
This sounds like an unlikely recipe but in Brazil, Mexico, and other parts of South America, it’s a favorite street food. Often done with a batter, I have done it here with breadcrumbs here which is a lighter version. I use the fries as a hor’ d oeuveres but they also are great in tacos and as a topper for salads.
2 cups or so vegetable oil for frying
1 large firm ripe avocado
1/2 cup flour seasoned generously with salt and pepper
1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
2 medium limes
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Chipotle aioli (recipe follows)
Heat the oil in a small saucepan to 375 degrees.
Leaving skin on the avocado, cut it into quarters lengthwise. Discard seed, peel and cut each quarter in half lengthwise for a total of 8 wedges.
Place seasoned flour on a small plate. In a small bowl combine the egg mixture with the juice of one of the limes. Cut the other lime into 6 wedges. Place the panko on another small plate.
Dredge the avocado wedges first in the flour and shake off any excess. Then, dip into the egg mixture and finally into the panko to nicely coat. Fry the wedges until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove and drain briefly on paper towels. Serve with the lime wedges and the chipotle aioli. They are fine at room temperature.
Makes about 3/4 cup
1 tablespoon finely chopped chipotle in adobo or to taste
1 tablespoon lime juice
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
Stir all together and adjust salt to your taste
Let mixture stand for at least 30 minutes before serving for flavors to develop. Can be stored covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
MEXICAN LENTIL SOUP
Serves 6 – 8
Easy to make, this is a base for all sorts of additions and leftovers. A favorite is to top the hot soup with a lemony green salad . . . soup and salad in one bowl!
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, washed and chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons oregano, Mexican preferred
1 tablespoon pure ground chile such as Ancho
7 cups or so chicken or vegetable stock
1-1/2 cups dried green or brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 cups homemade or store-bought fresh salsa or Pico de Gallo
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a soup pot over moderately high heat and add the garlic, onion and carrots and cook, stirring until they soften and are just beginning to brown. Add the cumin, oregano and chile powder and cook for a couple of more minutes. Add the stock and lentils. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook partially covered until lentils are tender, about 25 minutes. If lentils are still firm, cook for a few minutes longer. Stir in the salsa and season to your taste with salt and pepper and serve.
Serves 12 generously
A classic Mexican home recipe that can be made with pork, chicken, goat, etc. The Salsa Colorado is usually passed separately for each quest to stir in.
2 small white onions, peeled and halved
6 large peeled garlic cloves
2 large bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4-pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
2 29-ounce cans white posole (hominy) drained and thoroughly rinsed
Salsa Colorado (recipe follows)
4 cups finely shredded green cabbage,
2 bunches finely sliced radishes,
2 cups finely diced white onion
1/2 cup dried Mexican oregano*
2 large avocadoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
Add onions, garlic cloves, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 3-1/2 quarts water to a large deep pot and bring to a boil. Add the pork and bring back to the simmer. Skim off scum for the first 20 minutes or so. Cover and simmer until meat is very tender, about 1-1/2 hours. Add the hominy and bring to a simmer. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve with the salsa and other garnishes, each guest adding what they like.
8 Guajillo chiles, seeds and stems removed
6 Chiles de Arbol, stems removed
3 large peeled garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican* oregano
2 tablespoons white vinegar or lime juice
Salt to taste
In a small skillet, toast the guajillo’s over moderately high heat until toasted in spots and set aside. In the same skillet toast the chiles de arbol until fragrant. Be careful not to burn them or they will become bitter. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the chiles and off heat let them soak for 15 – 20 minutes. Remove chiles from the water and put in a blender along with the garlic, cumin, oregano, vinegar, salt to taste and add enough of the soaking water to make a smooth salsa. Can be made ahead and stored refrigerated for 3 days.
GRILLED MARINATED FLANK STEAK WITH LIME-CHIPOTLE SAUCE
Serves 6 – 8
This is a great summer dish since it doesn’t involve any stovetop or oven cooking. Read . . . don’t need to heat up the kitchen. Leftovers can be used the next day for great burritos, tacos, quesadillas, fajitas and warmed over rice or roasted fingerling potatoes.
3 pounds flank steak
2 tablespoons minced chipotle in adobo
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup olive oil
3/4 cup hearty red wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
1 – 2 tablespoons minced chipotle in adobo
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown mustard
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1-1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Grilled and sliced sweet red onions
Grilled and sliced red and yellow peppers
Trim the steak of any excess fat. Don’t be too crazy in your trimming. Leave a little. Remember fat is flavor. Mix marinade ingredients together and pour over steak. Marinate for at least 4 hours (overnight is fine) covered in refrigerator, turning once or twice.
In a blender, puree the sauce ingredients together until smooth and set aside. Season to your taste with salt and pepper.
Remove steak from marinade and grill over hot coals to desired doneness, approximately 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Let steak rest for a few minutes.
To serve: Slice meat thinly across the grain on an angle and spoon sauce over. Top with the accompaniments to create your masterpiece.
CAPIROTADA (MEXICAN BREAD PUDDING)
Serves 8 – 10
One of Mexico’s most popular Lenten dishes. The bread is important. It must have good body. Some recipes also call for adding an egg and milk custard, but I prefer this one without.
12 Ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) piloncillo or dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups of water
1 stick of cinnamon (preferably Mexican canela)
2 whole cloves
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
16 slices 1/3” thick of Bolillo or French bread
3/4 cup crumbled Cotija Cheese
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons cold butter cut in small cubes
Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium size saucepan add the Piloncillo, cinnamon stick, cloves, and water. Melt over moderate heat. Note: If you have difficulty cutting the piloncillo for the amount needed, place it in your microwave on medium for intervals of 30 seconds until it softens enough to cut. Be careful removing it from the microwave, it gets very hot.
Mix the melted butter with the oil and brush over the slices of bread. Place on a baking tray and bake 8 minutes and then turn over to bake 5 more minutes. The bread should have a deep golden color.
Start assembling the slices of bread in an oven proof dish. Quickly dip the bread slices into the syrup to lightly coat and then place in dish in a single layer. Top this layer with 1/3 of the cheese, raisins and peanuts or any other fruit or nuts you would like to add according to the suggestions below.
Pour the remaining syrup over the last layer of bread and top with any remaining cheese, raisins and peanuts. Dot with the cubed cold butter. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until the top crust is golden, another 15 minutes or so. The lower layers should be moist. Serve warm or at room temperature.
A few notes:
- Traditionally the bread is first fried instead of toasted in the oven. Choose which ever method you like.
- Day old Italian or French bread can be used. In Northern Mexico even toasted corn tortillas are added.
- Fruits are also found in some recipes, the most common are fried plantain, bananas, and apples.
- Use whatever dried fruits and nuts that you like.
- Other cheeses can be used like Jack, Mozzeralla, mild white Cheddar, or Queso Fresco.