Today we are celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Do you have your sombrero and pancho ready? The Artist and I will be gorging ourselves on Mexican food tomorrow, right after we finish toasting the winner of the Kentucky Derby with Mint Juleps. It promises to be one heck of a celebration day!
I have assembled seven recipes that I think would make an outstanding Cinco de Mayo Festival meal. Two appetizers, a couple of entrees for your guests to choose from, a refreshing fruit salad and of course a little chocolate for dessert. What’s not to like?
Everyone needs a great guacamole recipe and this one fills the bill nicely. The California Avocado Commission has created a recipe that highlights the beautiful creaminess of avocados. If you aren’t accustomed to working with fresh avocados, the best way to peel and deseed them is to cut them in half lengthwise. Twist the halves in opposite directions to separate them and scoop out the seed with a tablespoon. Then use a large cooking spoon to scoop out the flesh from the skin.
Spicy Taquitos are delightfully crunchy and always a big hit with my family and friends. This version has a nice heat from the Tabasco sauce. You can reduce or increase this to your tastes. If it is too hot you can always use the guacamole to dip instead of the hot dipping sauce. The Artist would do this anyway because he loves avocados!
To offer a nice textural change and refreshing palate cleanser, the Jicama-Melon salad is the perfect side dish. You can use nearly any fruit that is in season to offset jicama’s neutral flavor. Pineapple, blood oranges, honeydew, or watermelon all make wonderful accompaniments. If pomegranate seeds aren’t available, just leave them out or you could sprinkle in some pine nuts if you like. The lime juice adds just the right amount of acid and the dash of chili powder really wakes up your palate.
The entrees are from three of the finest south-of-the-border chefs in the country, Rick Bayless, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. They were both so delicious that I couldn’t pick one over the other and decided to put them both in here and let you decide. If it was me, I would make them both and give people more to choose from.
When you are buying dried chiles, you want to look for unbroken and unblemished chiles that are still pliable. Vibrantly colored ones typically have much better flavor than those that are pale or unevenly colored. Mexican groceries, most gourmet grocery stores and well-stocked regular stores should all carry them. If you have trouble finding them or want to experiment with other less well-known varieties, try Penzey’s Spices or The Spice House. You can store dried chiles in a dark, cool, dry place in a sealed container for up to 6 months. For longer storage, freeze them for up to 1 year. If in doubt, throw them out and start over. They are not expensive and it is much better to buy fresh chiles than ruin an entire meal with dusty-flavored old ones!
A super easy dessert for this party is Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies. You will love the combination of chocolate, cinnamon and chili powder. They have a little kick of heat that blends with the spices to make cookies that are really interesting and different from the norm. I like to eat them any time, but especially when I am serving Mexican foods.
My cookbook library is full of books from Bayless and Milliken/Feniger. If you love Mexican food, you owe it to yourself to add one or more of these titles to your bookshelves. They will get heavy use! And if you are new to Mexican cooking, Mexican Cooking for Dummies is perfect for you. It gives you all kinds of information about ingredients and helpful tips that will make you very comfortable trying a new cuisine.
I recommend the following cookbooks from Rick Bayless:
Mexican Everyday (Recipes from the PBS-TV series “Mexico One Plate at a Time”)
And from Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger:
I wish you all the happiest of Cinco de Mayo celebrations and a fabulous Festive Friday! Ole!!
- 4 large (about 8 oz each) ripe, fresh California avocados, seeded and peeled
- 3 limes, juice only
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium white onion, chopped finely
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/8 tsp cumin
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- Pinch sugar
- 1 serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped finely
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- Place avocados in a bowl and mash coarsely with a fork. Mix in remaining ingredients; serve immediately with fresh tortilla chips.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 cup cooked chicken, finely diced
- 1 cup cooked red or black beans
- 1 cup shredded Mexican-blend cheese
- 1 tbsp TABASCO® brand Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 tsp TABASCO® brand Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce
- 12 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Heat oil in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion; cook about 5 minutes. Stir in cumin; cook 1 minute.
- Combine chicken, beans, cheese, TABASCO® Green Sauce, salt, and onion mixture in large bowl; stir until well mixed.
- Melt butter in small bowl; stir in original TABASCO® Green Sauce. Set aside half of butter mixture; keep mixture warm.
- Assemble the 12 sheets of phyllo dough in 3 sets of 4 layered sheets as follows: place one sheet of frozen phyllo on work surface; brush with some butter mixture. Place second sheet of phyllo dough on top of first sheet; brush with butter mixture. Repeat with 2 more sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with butter mixture, to make 4 layers. Repeat this process with the other two sets of 4 sheets. Cut each of the 3 layered sets of phyllo sheets (horizontally and vertically) into 4 equal pieces, to make 12 cut pieces of layered dough.
- Place 1 heaping tablespoon of chicken mixture on lengthwise strip on each cut piece. Fold in short sides about 1 inch to enclose filling; roll lengthwise to form a 4-inch-long tube. Place on cookie sheet; brush with butter mixture.
- Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden. Serve with reserved warm butter mixture for dipping.
- Yield: 12 appetizer servings
- 1 large jicama, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
- 3 navel oranges, peeled and sectioned with pulp and membrane removed
- 1 large cantaloupe or honeydew melon, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-size chunks
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, optional
- 1 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 sprigs cilantro, chopped
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp chili powder (optional)
- In a nonreactive bowl, combine jicama and fruit. You can prepare the recipe to this point up to 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate.
- Toss with lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Refrigerate about 1 hour to allow flavors to meld. Toss with chili powder before serving.
- 2 fresh poblano chiles
- 1 cup (lightly packed) roughly chopped spinach leaves
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 6 tbsp (3 oz) butter—or you can use vegetable oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken (I usually use a rotisserie chicken or leftover grilled chicken)
- 12 corn tortillas
- A little vegetable oil for brushing or spraying
- About 1 cup Mexican melting cheese (Chihuahua, Quesadilla, Asadero or the like) or Monterey Jack, Colby or mild cheddar
- A little chopped cilantro for garnish
- Make the Sauce:Roast the poblanos directly over a gas flame or on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, turning regularly, until the skins have blistered and blackened on all side, about 5 minutes for an open flame, about 10 minutes under the broiler. Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and, when cool enough to handle, rub off the blackened skin, tear open and pull out the seed pod and stem. Quickly rinse to remove any stray seeds or bits of skin. Roughly chop and put in a blender jar.Add the spinach.
- In a medium (3-quart) saucepan, combine the milk and broth, set over medium-low heat to warm.
- In a large (4-quart) saucepan, melt the butter (or heat the oil) over medium.Add the garlic and cook for a minute to release its aroma, then add the flour and stir the mixture for a minute.Raise the heat to medium-high.Pour in the warm broth mixture and whisk constantly until the sauce boils.Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.Remove from the heat.
- Pour half the hot sauce into the blender with the chiles and spinach.Cover loosely (I remove the center part of the lid, secure the lid, then drape a cloth over the whole thing) and blend until smooth.Pour the mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining sauce.Taste and season with salt, usually about 2 tsp.
- Assemble the Enchiladas:Heat the oven to 350°F.
- Lay half of the tortillas out on a baking sheet and lightly brush or spray both sides of the tortillas with oil; top each tortilla with another one and brush or spray those with oil.Bake just to warm through and soften, about 3 minutes.Stack the tortillas and cover with a towel to keep warm.
- Smear about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish.Alternately, for individual servings, smear about1/4 cup of the sauce over the bottom of each of 4 to 6 (9-inch) individual ovenproof baking/serving dishes.
- Stir 1 cup of the sauce into the chicken.
- Working quickly so that the tortillas stay hot and pliable, roll a portion of the chicken up in each tortilla, then line them all up in the baking dish(es), seam-side down.Douse evenly with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with the cheese.Bake until the enchiladas are hot through (the cheese will have begun to brown), about 20 minutes.Garnish with the cilantro and serve immediately.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- 2 whole chicken breasts, on the bone, split into 2 pieces
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 3 cups Red Roasted Tomato Salsa (see recipe below)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced paper-thin
- 12 large tomatillos, husked, cored, and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 12 day-old 6-inch corn tortillas, or 18 if individual casseroles are being made
- Butter for greasing casserole
- 1 cup (4 oz) grated Mexican manchego cheese
- 1 cup (4 oz) grated panela cheese
- 1/2 cup (2 oz) grated añejo cheese
- Prepare Chicken: Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Place the breasts in the stock, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the meat is tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool in the stock. When cool, remove and discard the skin and bones and shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Strain and reserve the stock for another use.
- Make Filling: In a large mixing bowl, combine the salsa, cream, salt, pepper, onion, tomatillos, and shredded chicken pieces.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the tortillas just about 5 seconds per side to soften, and then transfer to a large colander to drain.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 4-quart casserole or 6 to 8 individual casseroles or au gratin dishes.
- Combine the manchego, panela, and añejo cheeses in a mixing bowl.
- Assemble the Chilaquiles: Spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture over the bottom of the baking dish. Push the solids in the bowl of chicken and salsa to the side so that the liquids form in a pool on one side. Dip all the softened tortillas in the pool to moisten. Layer one third of the moist tortillas over the cheese and top with half of the chicken mixture with its sauce. Sprinkle half of the remaining cheese over the chicken. Repeat the layers, ending with a layer of tortillas on top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing or unmolding from individual casseroles.
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- 1 lb Roma tomatoes, cored
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 serrano chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup tomato juice
- 1 tsp salt
- Pepper to taste
- Preheat the broiler.
- Place the tomatoes, garlic, chiles, and onion on a foil-lined baking tray. Drizzle with the olive oil. Broil 6 to 8 inches from the flame for about 12 minutes, turning frequently with tongs, until evenly charred.
- Transfer the vegetables and any accumulated juices to a blender or food processor. Add the tomato juice, salt, and pepper. Puree, in batches if necessary, until smooth.
- Pour into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature for table salsa, or use warm as an ingredient in rice or chilaquiles.
- Yield: 1 quart
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp coarse salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1-3/4 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp chile powder
- Preheat oven to 400°F, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
- In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1-1/2 cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down side of bowl. Add eggs and beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add in flour mixture and beat until combined.
- In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and chile powder (if using). Using heaping tbsp, form balls of dough and roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place about 3 inches apart, on two parchment-lined baking sheets.
- Bake until cookies are set in center and begin to crack, about 10 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cookies cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes, and then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. (Store in an airtight container, up to 1 week.)
- Yield: about 3 dozen cookies
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