Celebrate Mexico’s Colorful Cuisine & Culture on Cinco de Mayo

This painting depicts the Battle of Puebla—May 5, 1862.

May 5 is Cinco de Mayo, and you don’t have to be Mexican or of Mexican descent to celebrate. Contrary to popular belief, May 5 is not Mexico’s Independence Day; rather, it celebrates a triumph for the small Mexican army over large French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The battle marked a turning point in the French occupation of Mexico and helped instill a fierce sense of national unity and patriotism that is still present in Mexico today.

While Cinco de Mayo is not a prominent holiday in Mexico (it’s primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla and along the U.S./Mexico border with feasts, fiestas, and parades), Cinco de Mayo represents a day of pride for those of Mexican heritage living in the United States.

Traditional dishes that are served up on Cinco de Mayo include sangria, a red wine and fruit-based drink, enchiladas, chiles rellenos, and desserts such as dulce de leche cake and traditional Mexican flan (creamy egg custard).

Whether you want to show your support for Mexican heritage—and the large contribution Mexican culture has made to the melting pot of the U.S., or if you’re simply looking for an excuse to whip up sangria and enchiladas, Cinco de Mayo is a holiday worth celebrating!

Red Wine Sangria
 
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Recipe type: Cocktail
Serves: 10-12
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This red Sangria makes a refreshing and easy drink to serve at Cinco de Mayo festivities. Since it is prepared in advance, the host only needs to pour. Served in a clear glass pitcher; it is attractive enough to grace the dining table.
Ingredients
  • l liter dry, red wine
  • 1 jigger brandy
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 orange, peeled in one, long continuous strip
  • Juice from one orange
  • 1 lemon or 2 limes, sliced very thin
  • 1 peach, peeled and sliced very thin
  • Club soda, chilled

Instructions
  1. Pour the wine into a large glass pitcher or punchbowl and add the remaining ingredients, except the club soda, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Allow the mixture to stand 1 hour before serving, and then stir again before serving. Serve in tall glasses filled with ice cubes, adding 3⁄4 Sangria to 1⁄4 chilled club soda.

Stacked Red Chile Enchiladas
 
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Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 4
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This is the classic enchilada dish served at the early 1960s Albuquerque restaurant, Videz, owned by Pete Benavidez. The restaurant was torn down to make way for Interstate 40, but the recipe lives on.
Ingredients
  • 6 to 8 dried red New Mexican chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground Mexican oregano
  • 1⁄2 pound pork, cubed from a roast or chops
  • 1 to 11⁄2 pounds very lean ground beef
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 cups grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 medium onion, chopped

Instructions
  1. Cover the chiles with very hot water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes or until limp and partially rehydrated.
  2. Place the chiles in the blender (they should loosely fill 3⁄4 of the container, if more, make two small batches.) Fill the container up near the top with water. Drop in the clove of garlic and sprinkle the top with the oregano. Add a little salt at this stage if you wish. Blend for 2 to 3 minutes on high or until a homogeneous or orangish-red mixture is obtained.
  3. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and add the pork. Cook, covered over a very low heat or uncovered at a slight bubble, for 2 to 3 hours. If cooked uncovered, periodically add water back to original level to maintain proper consistency which I can only describe as medium soupy.
  4. Remove the pork pieces and save for another meal such as carne adovada. Place the chile sauce in the refrigerator and cool. Remove any fat that congeals on the top.
  5. Season the beef with a little salt and pepper and saute in a skillet until the meat is no longer pink. Combine the sauce and beef and simmer, covered, for an additional 30 to 45 minutes.
  6. Fry three tortillas per person in a couple of inches of oil until they are slightly harder than taco shells. As they are removed from the oil with tongs, dip each into the red chile pot until they are fully submerged. Remove, place on a plate and top with some cheese and onion.
  7. Continue the process until the tortillas are stacked three high on each plate. Ladle the red chile, including a small amount of the meat, over the tortilla stack until it is puddled up as deep as it will stand around the base of the stack. Cover the enchilada lightly with grated cheese and place in a 250 degree F. oven for 20 minutes.

Piñon Flan with Red Chile Caramel Sauce
 
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Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Latin American
Serves: 6
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Flan is a traditional Mexican custard dessert that has been adopted by all parts of the Southwest. This version is flavored with two other native Southwestern ingredients: piñon nuts and red chile.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 31⁄2 cups whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon New Mexican red chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 cup whole shelled piñon nuts

Instructions
  1. Place 1 cup sugar and 2⁄3 cups water in a heavy saucepan and, over a low heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil until the mix is a light brown. Reduce the heat and simmer until the syrup is an amber color, swirling the pan occasionally to push any crystals back in the syrup.
  2. Allow to cool slightly and pour evenly into six warmed custard cups so that this caramel sauce coats them.
  3. Scald the milk and vanilla bean. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove the vanilla bean.
  4. Beat the eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, chile powder and rum together until foamy. Whisk in the the remaining sugar and the piñons. Gradually add the milk, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Pour the mixture into the custard cups. Place the cups in a pan with enough hot water to come half-way up the sides of the cups.
  6. Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 60 to 70 minutes or until a thin knife inserted halfway between the center and the edge of the custard comes out clean.
  7. To serve, run a thin knife around the outside of the cup and invert the custard onto a dish. The piñon nuts should be on top. Let the custard sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to set before serving.

 


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