Cinco de Mayo is a great excuse to have a margarita and eat a burrito that could feed three people, but it’s time to clear up a few misconceptions.
If you’re looking for the authentic experience on Cinco de Mayo, don’t even think about eating that plate of nachos and washing it down with a pink margarita to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, because that’s not what May 5 is.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Cinco de Mayo honors Mexico’s victory at the Battle of Puebla, not its complete independence. And even if Cinco de Mayo was Independence Day, having a taco in one hand and a margarita in the other isn’t the authentic way to celebrate.
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Cinco de Mayo is mostly a family celebration in Mexico, Epicurious reports, but food still plays a big part. Tamales, enchiladas and flautas are popular, traditional dishes.
For the real deal, try these foods recommended by Smithsonian:
Chalupas: Fried tortillas with salsa and shredded meat.
Mole Poblano: This is a classic dark sauce made with peppers, spices and more and served with chicken or other meats.
Tres Leches: Literally translating to “three milk,” this cake is a sweet, spongey cake served in Mexico and parts of Central and South America. Sponge cake is soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream. I had this during a trip to Costa Rica, and would compare it to tiramisu. It’s really sweet and really delicious.
Recipe from Saveur. Serves 12.
- 1 cup masa harina, available at Mexican grocery stores
- 1 tsp. canola oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ cup salsa roja
- ½ cup salsa verde
- 1 large white onion, finely chopped
- Finely shredded cooked chicken for serving, optional
- ½ cup lard or canola oil
- ½ cup crumbled queso fresco
- Make tortillas. Combine masa harina, oil, salt, and ⅔ cup plus 1 tbsp. warm water in a bowl, and stir until dough forms.
- Knead dough in bowl until smooth. Pinch off pieces of dough and shape into about twelve balls, each weighing about 1 oz.
- Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, flatten each ball and add to skillet; cook, turning once, until blackened in spots on both sides. Transfer and divide tortillas between two baking sheets in a single layer and set aside.
- Place salsa roja and 2 tbsp. water in a blender. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, clean out blender, and repeat with salsa verde and another half cup of water; transfer salsa verde to a separate bowl. Using a spoon, place about 1 tbsp. salsa roja on top of half the tortillas, spreading it to the edges; repeat with salsa verde and remaining tortillas. Divide onion among all tortillas and top with shredded chicken if you use it.
- Return skillet to stove, add lard and heat over high heat until it begins to smoke. Working in batches, add tortillas, salsa sides up, and cook, basting tops with some of the hot lard or oil until crisp. Using a metal spatula, transfer tortillas to a serving platter and sprinkle with queso fresco.