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Cinco De Mayo: Three Mexican Antojito Recipes

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Like St. Patrick's Day and Mardi Gras, Cinco de Mayo is one of those holidays that is so awesome in concept—hey, I get to drink margaritas on a weeknight?—that it's celebrated by nearly everyone, regardless of their nationality.

But it's got another big advantage over those other drinking holidays: Mexicans are the absolute kings of snack food. Here are three antojito recipes designed for partying.

Queso Fundido

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The best part of any ski trip that I took with my family out to Hunter Mountain from New York was on the way back—we'd get to stop at Toro Loco, a Mexican-ish restaurant complete with request-taking mariachi (oh how they must have loathed my repeated requests for Cielito Lindo). Every meal would start out with an order of queso fundido—a hot skillet full of melted cheese with bits of bright red chorizo and strips of roasted peppers (rajas). The chorizo grease would form a crimson slick on top of the cheese, which would stretch into long strings as you piled it greedily into a soft tortilla.

It's an unforgivingly rich dish, with little to offset the fattiness of the cheese and chorizo save for a bit of heat from the peppers. Much like crab rangoon, the dish is essentially an excuse to eat a ton of hot cheese, though honestly—do you need an excuse?

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While you can certainly use store-bought raw Mexican-style chorizo (not dry-cured Spanish style), it's really easy to make your own. I like to make the pepper and cilantro-flavored chorizo verde from Toluca. Traditionally it gets a deep green color from powdered spinach, so the quick version in the recipe made from ground pork is not quite authentic, but it's delicious nonetheless.

If you want to get really serious, try this with homemade tortillas.

Get the recipe for queso fundido »

Quesadillas Fritas

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If you've only ever known the wan, floppy quesadillas served all too often in sports bars and second-rate Mexican restaurants, you have yet to experience true quesadilla enlightenment: shallow frying

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Rather than griddling or frying in a small amount of oil, these flour-tortilla quesadillas get shallow-fried in enough hot oil that their surfaces blister and bubble into a crisp, crackly, and altogether more flavorful golden-brown crunch. The filling can be as simple or as radical as you'd like, but at the very least, I like to add a couple of chopped up pickled jalapeños and some fresh cilantro to balance out the richness of the cheese.

If you want to go all out, drizzle the finished quesadilla with some chipotle-flavored Mexican crema along with some crumbled cotija cheese.

These things kick some serious snack ass.

Get the recipe for quesadilla fritas »

Sopes

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This is by far the most complex of the recipes here, requiring you to cook and shred chicken, make a salsa verde out of tomatillos and poblano peppers, and to form and fry the sope shells. If you decide to make refried beans from scratch on top of that, it's even more difficult.

But in reality, the only parts you absolutely have to make from scratch are the sope shells. Much like making tortillas, they start with a dough made from masa harina (that's dehydrated nixtamalized corn flour) that gets flattened into a thick disk. The edges of the disk then get pinched to form a shallow saucer. The raw sope shell is fried just long enough to get it to hold its shape, but not so long that it gets crisp. The idea is that you want it to form an impenetrable barrier for the treats that go on top of it, but you still want it to be soft and warm in the center.

Get the recipe for sopes »

You can, of course, just wrap up the fillings in a regular store-bought tortilla, but where's the fun in that?

Salud!

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