Cinco de Mayo is a great time to host a dinner party and celebrate Mexican culture with some authentic Mexican food and drink. According to the Pew Hispanic Center there are more than 31 million Mexican Americans and it is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Many Americans falsely believe that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day. But they are making an incorrect association between the informal name for the U.S. Independence Day, the 4th of July, and Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May.
Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16th, the day in 1810 when Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla first made the famous Grito de Dolores, cry for independence. The events celebrated on Cinco de Mayo came over fifty years later. During the first fifty years of independence, Mexico suffered multiple civil wars and violent internal struggle between the conservative and liberal ruling elites. In the 1840s they also became embroiled in war with an expansionist United States. Mexico lost what would become the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and California to the United States.
When liberals recaptured Mexico City in 1861, Benito Juárez was elected President only to discover that the country was nearly bankrupt and unable to repay debts to England, Spain and France. The European nations, in a forceful gesture, dispatched a joint punitive force to Mexico. However, it quickly became evident to the British and Spanish monarchies that France, under Napoleon III, had expansionist desires in the Americas. And they both withdrew their forces.
The French fleet landed in Veracruz in 1862 and 8,000 French forces marched towards Mexico City. At the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862 the French were defeated by an ill-equipped rag-tag force of just 4,000 Mexicans. Even though the French army had reinforcements sent days later and eventually gained control of all of Mexico from 1864 to 1867, the victory in the Battle of Puebla is celebrated with great regional pride.
Having a few friends over for dinner and margaritas is a great way to celebrate Pueblan and Mexican culture and their contribution to American heritage.
There are many traditional Pueblan dishes that you can make at home. Many of them require traditional ingredients that you can find at Mexican specialty stores. However, you can easily substitute hard to find ingredients and still make a delicious and festive meal. Many of the dishes take time, and Pueblan cooking has a rich history of techniques. But the more you try the more you can adapt the techniques to your every day cooking. Here is a meal I made for friends and family last Cinco de Mayo that combines traditional Pueblan dishes and recipes with my own personal interpretations. Happy cooking and feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Plantains are popular throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. They make a fun and festive alternative to tortilla chips and they are easy to make. Serve with fresh salsa and guacamole.
4 firm, but ripe plantains. A yellow/black color
vegetable oil for deep-frying
Peel the plantain and cut into 1/8th to 1/16th inch slices. In a deep skillet or fryer, heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry the plantain chips until golden, keeping them well spaced. Usually 2-3 minutes. Transfer to paper towel to drain. Salt to taste. These are best served immediately. However if you want to make them ahead of time, fry the plantains and keep them in an air-tight container and reheat in the oven at 350 degrees before serving.
Simple Fresh Salsa
4-6 large tomatoes
2-4 jalapenos, depending on preference
1 clove garlic
3 green onions
1 medium white onion
juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup of cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Blend each ingredient in a food processor until chunky. Mix in a large bowl. Adjust lime and jalapeno to taste. Will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
2 medium ripe avocado, halved, seeded and peeled
juice of two limes
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground dried red chiles
Preparation: Mix in a large bowl. Adjust jalapeno, lime, and salt to taste. All of the ingredients, except the avocado, can be mixed together ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. Cut open and add the avocado just before serving.
Chicken in Mole Verde
Mole is one of the most popular dishes in Puebla. It is a thick sauce that combines a variety of ground chiles and sometimes nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. It can be a bit intimidating to make. However, if you take it slow you should be able to produce a fantastic and authentic tasting mole.
For the chicken:
1 decent sized whole chicken (about 3 pounds), cut into serving size pieces
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
3 clove garlic, peeled
2 bay leafs
a few sprigs of dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
Preparation: In a large pot bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add carrots, onion, garlic, salt, bay leafs, dried herbs, and the neck, giblets, and heart of the chicken. Boil for 20 minutes skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Add the dark meat pieces of the chicken first and cook for 10 minutes. Then add the breast portions and cook another 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and strain the stock for later use.
For the mole:
1 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
4 medium-size tomatillos boiled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
4 serrano or jalapeno chiles
4 poblano chiles, skinned, seeded and chopped
4 romaine lettuce leaves
12 sprigs fresh cilantro
a few radish leaves
4 cups chicken stock, strained, from cooking the chicken
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 raisins, soaked in water
Preparation: Toast the pumpkin seeds until golden but do not burn. Combine all ingredients in a blender except for 2 cups of the chicken stock, the vegetable oil, and the raisins. Blend. In a large saucepan heat the oil and add the blended sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes, slowly adding the last 2 cups of the chicken stock. Let cool, and then blend the sauce again until it is smooth. Return it to the pan and add the cooked chicken. Over medium-low heat, cook for about 10 minutes. Plate and garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro, some extra toasted pumpkin seeds, and the drained raisins.
Mexican Chocolate Custard
This is a rich and satisfying dessert for chocolate fanatics. It is easy to make and can be prepared a few days ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
6 ounces Mexican Ibarra chocolate, chopped
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, plus a few shavings reserved for garnish
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
Unsweetened whipping cream, for serving
In a saucepan, combine the milk with the heavy cream. Over moderate heat, bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks until combined. Slowly whisk in ½ cup of the hot milk and cream, being careful not to scramble the eggs. Then transfer the yolks and warm milk into the saucepan and cook until slightly thickened, whisking constantly. About 2 minutes. Add the Ibarra, bittersweet, and milk chocolates and remove saucepan from heat. Stir until all of the chocolate melts. Spoon the custard into small cups or ramekins and chill overnight in the refrigerator. Serve the custard with a dollop of whisked whipping cream and a garnish of chocolate shavings.
Margaritas are delicious and refreshing. Using blanco or white tequila will lend the drink a slightly vegetal quality. Using reposado tequila will lend the drink a more rounded, sweet flavor. Using anejo tequila will give this drink a smokier flavor.
1.5 ounces tequila
1 ounce Cointreau (or triple sec, but not recommended)
1 ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
Combine all ingredients over ice. Shake. Salt the rim of the glass by rubbing the rim with a lime wedge and then rolling the glass in course salt. Garnish with the lime wedge.
Edwin Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America, Penguin Books. Pgs 227-267.
Pew Hispanic Center: http://pewhispanic.org
Stephanie Prida, Mexican Chocolate Pots de Creme, Food and Wine Magazine
Rick Bayless, Chicken in a Green Pumpkin Seed Sauce, Reader’s Digest