Today is Cinco de Mayo, translation – the 5th of May. Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. That would be September 16th. May the 5th commemorates a battle between the Mexicans and French in 1862 in the state of Puebla. Although it is not a national holiday in Mexico, you might start to wonder if Cinco de Mayo is a holiday in this country. All over the United States, Cinco de Mayo will be celebrated with tortillas and margaritas.
I suspect that most Americans know little if anything about the battle that led to all this hoopla. To put it in perspective, our celebration of Cinco de Mayo is akin to the Mexicans celebrating Patriots’ Day. If you didn’t grow up in Massachusetts or Maine, you might not know that Patriots’ Day commemorates the first two battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord. It is only celebrated in the two aforementioned states.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you are somehow lacking if you don’t know the ins-and-outs of Cinco de Mayo. It’s probably enough to know that, for whatever mysterious reason, it has captured the hearts and stomachs of many Americans. Perhaps it’s because Dieciséis de Septiembre is more difficult to pronounce. I guess it doesn’t really matter why. Regardless of our grasp of our neighbor’s history, we have figured out that Cinco de Mayo is an excellent excuse for a Mexican-style celebration complete with wonderful spicy food, music and of course margaritas.
I discovered Mexican food when I was in high school. A Mexican restaurant, it probably belonged to one or another big chain, opened up a few miles down the road on Route 9. It quickly became one of my favorites. Even if Mexican food was a long-established staple in California, it was wonderfully exotic fare for this New England teenager. In spite of my enjoyment, I’m guessing the dishes were distant cousins to anything prepared in Mexico. But to my inexperienced palette, it was a delicious discovery.
When I moved to Switzerland, I found that the Swiss were behind New England in discovering the delights of Mexican cuisine. I was not ready to give up the spice and heat. For several years, I smuggled pickled jalapeños, tortillas and black beans into the country. In truth, smuggling is much too strong a word for it. Every year I spent a week or two in the US and, at the end of every vacation, I stuffed my suitcase with goodies and schlepped them back to Geneva. Swiss customs could not have cared less that I was bringing in a few jars of jalapeños and a bag or two of dried beans. To the delight of my friends with these few staples, I could put together a party with the spirit and good cheer, if not the authenticity, of a Mexican feast.
So, break out the chilies and cornmeal and cook up some south of the border goodies. Throw a batch of margaritas in the blender and celebrate spring and Cinco de Mayo. It’s okay if your feast is not strictly authentic as long as you enjoy a festive evening with friends and family.
¡Viva México! and ¡Buen Apetito!
Tostadas with Avocado Crema & Black Bean Salsa
This dish makes no claims at authenticity. Imagine that New England had a fling with sunny Mexico and this is the results … corn cakes and salsa. Enjoy!
Makes about 8 large or 16 mini tostadas
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and halved
1/2 cup (or to taste) sour cream
Grated zest of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
About 1/2 cup rinsed, drained and roughly chopped cooked black beans
About 1/2 cup seeded and roughly chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon (or to taste) minced jalapeno
2-3ablespoons minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1/2 lime
Kosher slt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish: chopped cilantro leaves
Make the Avocado Crema: Place the avocado in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add the sour cream, lime zest and cumin, season with salt and pepper and stir until smooth and well combined. For a creamier mix, add more sour cream. Cover and let sit to combine the flavors.
Make the Black Bean Salsa: Put the black beans, tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, garlic and lime juice in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Cover and let sit to combine the flavors.
Make the Corn Cakes:
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces grated cheddar cheese
1 cup sweet corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
Put the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in bowl andsk to combine. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Add the corn, garlic, jalapeno and onion and toss again.
Stir in the egg and milk and continue stirring until well blended. Cover and let sit for 20-30 minutes.
Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. After giving the batter a stir, add large or small spoonfuls of batter to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes per side or until golden.
To serve: put a small dollop of the avocado crema on top of each corn cake, top with a spoonful of black bean salsa and garnish with cilantro.
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One Year Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Two Years Ago – Lemon-Lime Squares
Three Years Ago – Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)
Four Years Ago – Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt
Five Years Ago – Black & White Brownies
Six Years Ago – Rhubarb Muffins
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!
How will you celebrate spring and Cinco de Mayo? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015