The Cookstr 10: Ten Recipes for Cinco de Mayo
We have free-floating cultural envy. Which is to say that any holiday that celebrates the culture and food of a particular ethnicity sparks a yearning to be a member of that cultural background, so we can be part of the festivities. Cinco de Mayo is just such an occasion, and on the 5th of May we dive deep into the foods of Mexico, whether we’re Mexican or not.
For a little background to go with your feast, Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday commemorating the Mexican army’s unlikely victory at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The holiday has morphed into a global celebration of Mexican heritage and pride.
Remember when John F. Kennedy famously said “Ich bin ein Berliner” while visiting Germany, thinking he was showing his affinity for Berlin, when in fact he was essentially pronouncing himself a jelly doughnut? Well, that’s the kind of mistake we might make, so focused are we on all the amazing foods that have come out of Mexico and its rich cultural traditions. And speaking of doughnuts, check out recipe #10 and add that to your to-do list.
1. Jane Butel’s Margaritas. Margarita mix is a wonderful invention, and has kick-started many a party. But a homemade margarita, made with fresh lime juice, is in a whole other class. With salt, without salt, straight up, on the rocks; this popular mixed drink is yours to personalize. And be sure to check out the fruity variations.
2. Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s Chipotle Tomatillo Salsa. Smoky chipotles and tart tomatillos come together to make a salsa that has a lot going on in the flavor department. A big bowl of chips is of course the perfect companion, but you can also use this as an accessory to simple broiled or grilled chicken, fish, whatever you’re sizzling up for dinner.
3. Rick Bayless’s Chunky Guacamole. If you were an avocado, this is where you’d like to go in your next life. Guacamole and salsa are the quintessential dips and/or condiments of Mexican food, and this classic guacamole has just the right amount of zing.
4. Zarela Martinez’s Vegetables and Shredded Beef in Vinaigrette. A piquant salad featuring avocado, tomatoes, radishes and chiles joins a mound of finely shredded, quickly marinated meat. The name, gaspacho (or gazpacho), is surprising, since most of us know gazpacho as a Spanish cold soup–though it turns out that the word has been applied to all kinds of soups, salads, and other medleys throughout the history of Spanish food.
5. Barbara Kafka’s Tortilla Soup. As restorative as any chicken soup, with the congruent additions of fresh lime juice, cilantro, and jalapenos to provide that lively Mexican twist. This soup is also fun to eat, since diners can add as much or as little of the toppings–tortilla strips, avocado, shredded chicken breast, and cheese–as they like.
6. Roberto Santibañez’s Red Snapper Ceviche with Mango. The seafood is fresh, the marinade tart, and the mango sweet. With its flavors and textures of citrus, jicama, mint, chiles, and cilantro, this is a lively dish, if ever there was. Very dramatic when mounded up in cocktail glasses.
7. Cheryl and Bill Jamison’s Chicken Enchiladas Verde. This dish certainly drives some tough competition in the popularity department. Chicken is roasted with some seasonings, shredded, and wrapped up in saucy tortillas with a bit of cheese. More sauce, more cheese, a quick bake, and happiness is on the table.
8. Deborah Schneider’s Tacos of Carnitas Roasted with Orange, Milk, and Pepper. A slow-roasted piece of pork is shredded and then tucked into corn tortillas with crunchy tomatillo salsa, creamy avocado sauce, and other high-impact seasonings. The hint of orange really opens up the flavor blend.
9. Victoria Wise and Susanna Hoffman’s Chicken Fajitas with Green Olive-Cilantro Salsa. Completely authentic? Nah. But delicious and fun? Yes! The green olive and cilantro salsa is where it’s at, and it can be a best friend to all kinds of proteins besides chicken.
10. Marcela Valladolid’s Date and Mexican Chocolate Ricotta Fritters. These are a lot of fun. Rich and chewy and chocolatey little bites, with a hint of orange and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar (and a little more chocolate, for luck).