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Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: Cinco de Mayo

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[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

Ever wondered what exactly you were celebrating on Cinco de Mayo (other than margaritas and guacamole)? Here's the low-down: Cinco de Mayo commemorates May 5, 1862 and the Battle of Puebla. At this battle of the Franco-Mexican War, Mexico overcame overwhelming odds to beat the invading French army. And that calls for a party.

But the truth is that Cinco de Mayo is primarily an American holiday, not a Mexican one. Does that mean that you should settle for bland bean burritos and margaritas mixed from a bottle? No, sir. Use this excuse to make some spicy guacamole, rockin tacos, and deeply chocolaty chocolate-chile cookies.

Habanero Guacamole

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Guacamole is so delicious that it's easy to use the same plain recipe every time. This year I shook things up and replaced the more typical jalapeno or serrano peppers with some diced habanero. These small, bright orange peppers add a level of heat that really pops against the cool, creamy avocados.

Grilled Steak Tacos with Roasted Tomato Green Chile Salsa

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These tacos are all about deep flavor. Flank steak is marinated in onions, peppers, lime juice, and cumin, then seared on the grill so they get a smoky flavor. The steak is topped with with a duo of chile peppers: charred poblano peppers, and a roasted tomato green chile salsa. Where the poblanos are mild, the salsa has serious heat from serrano peppers. So keep beers on hand.

Zucchini Corn Tacos with Queso Fresco

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These vegetarian tacos go way beyond rice and beans. Zucchini is sautéed until crisp-tender in a sauce made from onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Roasted poblanos add smokiness and freshly shucked corn kernels add crunch and a hint of sweetness. When the tangy crema is swirled in, this taco filling becomes rich and velvety. They're heavenly with some some crumbled, salty queso fresco passed alongside.

Chocolate Chile Cookies

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These cookies pay homage to the spicy-sweet flavors found in mole. Ancho chile powder adds a subtle, smoky heat that deepens the flavor of the chocolate. With a sprinkling of powdered sugar these fudgy chocolate coins are sure to be a hit.

To drink: To balance out the spice in the dishes, try a watermelon margarita. Or how about a Prickly Pear Margarita with Ancho Chile Salt? Even if you just want the classic version, we've got you covered.

If you're not into tequila, try a Michelada instead. It's beer with hot sauce and lime juice, and believe me, it's amazing.

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