We love a celebration! Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, funerals…you name it and we find a way to turn it into a party.
Depending on where you live and the weather, it might be an outdoor barbeque, or an indoor sit-down dinner. We will eat from paper plates and napkins or splurge by bringing out the fine china and polishing up the silver pieces.
We honor regional, political and religious holidays, college and professional sports games, and any number of cultural moments, often having absolutely no idea what we are celebrating or the story behind it! But who cares? It’s a reason to get together to socialize with friends or family and have a moment in time where we can have fun, and enjoy delicious food and drink!
Cinco de Mayo is one of those reasons.
The fifth of May is a regional holiday in Puebla, Mexico to commemorate General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin’s leadership of the Mexican Army, which was half the size of the formidable French Army, to defeat them in 1862, thus marking the last time an army from any other continent has invaded the Americas. Other than in Puebla, there is limited recognition of this event in other parts of Mexico.
Here in the United States, we have come to observe this day as we do many other cultural holidays. It is a way for us to honor Mexican-American heritage, much as we do Saint Patrick’s Day for Irish-Americans or Oktoberfest for those of German ancestry.
Moreover, it becomes a day where we can all have fun and plan a celebration! And what is a Cinco de Mayo celebration without brightly-colored decorations and piñatas, festive mariachi music playing on the stereo and delicious foods with Mexican flavors, paired with margaritas, sangria, or Mexican beer?
It doesn’t require becoming a slave to your kitchen. Most every grocery store nowadays has a freezer section and aisle with pre-made Mexican-style items which will suffice for your celebration. Add tortilla chips, salsa, canned refried beans, tortillas, grated cheese, ground beef or chicken, enchilada sauce, and some fresh vegetables (i.e. shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and chopped onion) to your shopping list, and you can put together a Cinco de Mayo celebration that will have you dancing a Mexican Hat Dance at your fiesta!
Tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, beans, chips and salsa, and guacamole are all standard fare for most Americans who want a bit of Mexican flavor! Most are very simple to make and require minimal preparation.
A Meat Filling of ground beef or chicken cooked with a bit of minced onion, chili powder, and garlic salt (or a package of taco seasoning mix) becomes the meat filling for tacos, enchiladas, and a variety of other delicious meals.
If you want to make it a bit more special, use leftover roast beef, roast pork, or chicken and simmer it in a bit of broth, enchilada sauce, or tomato sauce with onion, garlic, cumin, and oregano. You can put tomatoes, green peppers, or chili peppers in for additional flavor. It’s all up to you!
Once tender, shred the meat by pulling it apart with two forks. You have a delicious addition to your tacos or you can try your hand at making flautas, use the shredded meat as the filling.
Flautas comes from the Spanish word for “flute” because it is a tortilla that has been tightly rolled into a thin, cylindrical shape resembling a flute, and is fried. You may also know them as “taquitos” (little tacos). They can be filled with beef, chicken, or cheese and served with salsa, sour cream and guacamole.
My preference is to use corn tortillas. Heat a bit of oil in a skillet, and cook the tortillas in the hot oil, one at a time, until they are soft and pliable to roll, not more than 10 seconds, and drain them on absorbent paper.
Strain the liquid from your meat mixture, and then spoon approximately 1 Tablespoon of meat (and cheese, if desired) into the center of the tortilla and tightly roll the tortilla around the filling into the shape of a flute, securing it with a toothpick if necessary
Fry them until the tortilla holds its shape; remove the toothpicks and serve with your choice of salsas, sauces, sour cream, or guacamole.
Quesadillas are another very simple item that makes great fiesta food. “Queso” is the Spanish word for “cheese” and the quesadilla is nothing more than cheese melted inside of a flour tortilla, though you can put in whatever you might like with the cheese. Try it with cooked chicken, tomatoes, onions, and olives if you want something heartier.
The basic quesadilla is made by heating a very small amount of olive oil or butter in a large, heavy skillet. Place the flour tortilla in the pan and heat by flipping the tortilla over every 10 seconds or so, doing this several times as the tortilla starts to develop “bubbles” or air pockets.
Sprinkle a handful of grated cheese over the top of the tortilla, and add any additional ingredients you might like. You don’t want to fill it too much. When the cheese has begun to melt and the tortilla has started to get golden, fold the quesadilla into half with a spatula, turning over several times to brown it properly, if needed.
Remove from the skillet, cut into wedges, and serve with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.
Fajitas are very easy to make and most everyone will find something they love. You can use any kind of meat, vegetables or seafood, but if you want to stick to tradition, use marinated flank steak with onions and green peppers. The marinade tenderizes the lean meat with the acidic quality of vinegar and gives it whatever flavor you choose.
If you are short on time and want an easy marinade, try using bottled seasoned Italian salad dressing. Otherwise, a good homemade marinade can be concocted by using vinegar, lemon or lime juice, a little olive oil, freshly crushed garlic, salt and pepper, cumin, and hot pepper sauce, to taste.
Cut your meats and vegetables into bite-sized strips and pieces and marinate for about one-half hour. Heat a bit of olive oil in a wok or heavy skillet and “stir-fry” the fajita mixture over medium high heat until fully cooked. Serve with warmed tortillas, sour cream, pico de gallo or salsa, and guacamole.
Here are some basics to which you can add your own variations and flavors:
Basic Guacamole Dip
3 ripe avocados
1 fresh lime or lemon, juiced
1/2 cup salsa
Salt to taste
Cut avocados in half, pit, and scoop out the meat with a spoon. Sprinkle the avocado with the lime (or lemon) juice and mash with a folk. Mix in salsa and salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Instead of using commercial salsa in the basic recipe, try adding:
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup ea. finely chopped onion and cilantro
1 clove garlic, pushed through press
Several dashes of pepper sauce (i.e. Tapatio, etc.)
Ground cumin and salt, to taste
Easy Mild Black Bean Dip
1 can black beans, drained and pureed
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey jack cheese
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat all ingredients in a small pot until cheese is melted, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn, and adding a bit of the bean liquid if it’s too thick. Place in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream on top. Serve with tortilla chips.
Pico de Gallo (Fresh Salsa)
4 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped (green onion works well, too)
1-2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
Juice of one lime
Salt to taste
Mix all the ingredients and refrigerate 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavors combine. Healthy, fresh, full of flavor and nutrients. Best of all, it’s lowfat!
Whatever you choose to cook
for your Cinco de Mayo party, remember that you can keep it simple and still put delicious, satisfying foods on the table that would even make General Seguin’s Army shout, “Delicioso!”