It’s time to prep your stomach (and liver) for Cinco de Mayo – perhaps the most misunderstood holiday in the states. Despite popular belief, the May 5 party is not a celebration of Mexican Independence. Instead, it’s a day that commemorates Mexican victory over the French in the May 1862 Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. It’s a relatively minor historic footnote for a country with Mexico’s storied past, but nonetheless, every year millions of Americans find it a welcome excuse to consume Mexican favorites.
Cindo de Mayo was popularized in the 1930s, partly due to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” with Central and Latin America that encouraged friendly relations beyond our southern borders. In the 1960s, Mexican-Americans and Latinos across the country adopted the holiday as a way to showcase their cultures and food. Cinco de Mayo celebrations are thrown around the states, with some of the best bashes in Chicago and Houston. Cities like Chandler, Arizona, even hold annual Chihuahua-racing events. But Los Angeles claims the title for the premiere, most “authentic” Cinco festivities in the United States – celebrated, oddly enough, on the last Sunday of April. Known as Fiesta Broadway, LA’s Cinco de Mayo party boasts entertainment and vendors galore, with loads of Mexican-inspired nosh and plenty of tequila.
Because of its roots in Puebla, Mexico, the official dish of Cinco de Mayo is the regional favorite, Mole Poblano de Guajolote: braised turkey legs in a rich sauce of blended chilies and Mexican chocolate.
You can find the recipe for Mole Poblano de Guajolote below, along with some of my other Cinco de Mayo favorites you can easily recreate for your own celebration.
Mexican Street Corn (Elote)
For herbivores, Mexican street corn is an easy appetizer or side dish that’s both quick to prepare and full of flavor. If you can’t find cotija cheese, substituting with Parmesan or crumbled feta will give you a flavor profile similar to the real deal.
Six ears of corn, husks removed
½ cup Mexican crema or sour cream
½ cup mayo
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp ground chipotle powder
2 tsp freshly grated lime zest
2 tbsp lime juice (from 1 lime)
½ cup cotija cheese
Method: Grill corn over high heat. If husks on: Soak for 30 minutes before grilling to ensure no burning. Turn every five minutes for even cooking. If husks off: Spray corn with nonstick spray or wipe with oil to ensure no sticking. Grill on high heat until desired char.
Combine crema, mayo and garlic. Remove corn from grill and slather with crema mix. Combine cotija cheese and chipotle powder. Roll corn in cotija cheese and sprinkle with lime zest, cilantro and salt as desired.
Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
Step up your Cinco de Mayo game with a Mexican-inspired shrimp cocktail! For this recipe, I used fresh Key West Pinks -– available at stores like Gulf Coast Seafood and Key West Seafood here in Gulfport – and doctored up homemade red enchilada sauce as the base to keep with the Mexican flavors. Want to enhance your experience and impress your guests? Pour a floater of your favorite tequila or Mezcal over the shrimp right before serving!
1-lb raw shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
16 oz red enchilada sauce
½ cup onion, small dice
½ cup Clamato juice
Juice and zest from one lime
Hot sauce, to taste
2 cups fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt/pepper to taste
Method: Cook shrimp in boiling water until pink and place in an ice bath. Combine cucumber, jalapeño, enchilada sauce and onion in a bowl and stir together. Add shrimp. Toss lightly. Pour Clamato juice, lime zest/juice and hot sauce over shrimp mixture. Fold in cilantro. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Watermelon Jalapeño Margarita
It wouldn’t be a proper Mexican celebration without refreshing libations. For a spin on a classic lime margarita, try making a watermelon jalapeño margarita! Don’t like spice? Make your marg stirred, not shaken. You’ll get the essence of fresh jalapeño pepper without the heat and sniffles by keeping the pepper intact. Want it hot? Try using fresh serrano pepper or Thai chilies instead. For ultimate flavor and little hangover, nix the sugary, pre-made sour mix and use agave. You, and your body, will thank me tomorrow. Regardless of your tolerance for heat, the salty lime flavor of a classic margarita combined with sweet watermelon and spicy pepper will make it a refreshing Florida Cinco de Mayo. Hit up Gulfport Liquors for your favorite tequila and Funky Flamingo Produce and Deli for watermelon, jalapeños and limes!
1 cup silver tequila
1 cup watermelon juice
6 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 jalapeño, thinly sliced into rings
4 tsp agave nectar
Coarse salt for rimming glass
Method: Remove the rind from a seedless watermelon and cut into large chunks. Put watermelon in a blender and puree until smooth. Strain watermelon juice to remove pulp. (I like mine with pulp, but it’s up to you.) With ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, mix tequila, watermelon juice, freshly squeezed lime juice, jalapeño slices and agave. Shake until well combined. Rim a rocks glass with salt – I also added some fresh lime zest to my rim salt – and serve margarita garnished with jalapeño rings and watermelon wedge.
However you choose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, may you surround yourself with fun, socially-distanced company, fantastic food and strong cocktails. And thank our Mexican neighbors for defeating the French Army so we may continue to celebrate this delicious holiday!
Mole Poblano de Guajolote
(Recipe adapted from Escoffier School of Culinary Arts)
2 each turkey thighs or legs
1 oz lard or vegetable shortening
4 each ancho chili peppers (dried)
½ oz sesame seeds
1 oz almonds
⅛ tsp Ground cloves
¼ tsp Cinnamon
¼ tsp Black pepper
⅛ tsp Ground coriander
2 oz tomatoes, canned or fresh
4 each garlic cloves, chopped
¼ oz unsweetened chocolate crumbled into pieces
2 cups unsalted chicken stock
Sesame seeds (optional garnish)
Cilantro, chopped (optional garnish)
Method: Seed and stem chilies so they can be ground to a powder. Grind the sesame seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder and set aside. Grind almonds the same way. Blanche tomatoes and peel; add to a blender. Add ground chilies, ground sesame seeds, ground almonds, cloves, cinnamon, pepper and coriander to the blender. Add garlic to blender. Blend until mixture is a smooth purée – if too thick, add water or stock to thin out. Season turkey legs with salt and pepper as desired. In a large sauce pot or dutch oven over medium heat, brown poultry on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the purée from blender to the pot and cook five minutes until the mixture is very thick. Stir constantly. Add the chocolate and stir until it is completely blended in. Add stock and browned poultry to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat until the poultry is tender. Remove poultry and set aside. Increase heat and reduce cooking liquid to sauce consistency (reduce at least by half). Taste, season and adjust with salt and pepper as desired. Coat poultry in sauce and garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro.
Chef Morgan’s Tips:
For best results, use a dutch oven!
DON’T add additional chocolate. Resist the urge! The chocolate is not the star ingredient of the dish and adding more than the recipe calls for will give you a gummy sauce with a grainy texture.
Toasting the sesame seeds and spices will allow them to bloom so you get an added dimension of flavor in the dish.