Food History 101: Cinco de Mayo
Learn about the traditional foods and significance of this Mexican holiday

  Cinco de Mayo is a holiday celebrated to remember a very important day in Mexican History when the Mexican Army defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Despite popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day. On that day, Napoleon sent 6500 men to go up against 4000 Mexican men in a brutal battle. Mexico actually already declared their independence on September 16, 1810.

The city of Puebla celebrates Cinco de Mayo by throwing huge parties which includes dancing, bright decorations, and fabulous Mexican food. Women dress in colorful attire and men wear western traditional clothing. There are many parades, great music being played by Mariachi bands and tons of people celebrating by eating delicious food while spending time with their loved ones. Cinco de Mayo is most celebrated in Puebla and many other Mexican towns, even places in this country rejoice and remember the epic battle.

Cinco de Mayo is one of over 365 festivals celebrated by people of Mexican origin. The holiday became popular in the United States by Chicano activists in the '60s and '70s, who related with the Mexican Indian and mestizo, people with mixed Mexican and European heritage, soldiers victory over the French and other European invasion efforts. Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston host annual Cinco de Mayo festivities that draw hundreds of thousands of fiesta-goers.

In the states, many Cinco de Mayo parties are planned and similarly to Mexico it is commemorated by eating authentic Mexican foods such as tamales, enchiladas, guacamole or chips and salsa.

The alcoholic beverages usually contain tequila and many go for the refreshing taste of a lime margarita or some drink with a lot of flavor like micheladas , beer mixed with spicy tomato juice. Sweet choices include many varieties of flan and Tres Leches Cake.

Traditional Mexican cuisine is likely to be different than we expect and it diverges immensely from every region in Mexico. Some areas prepare dishes that are unexpectedly bland, while others make ardent use of spices and hot chile peppers. The earliest Mexican agricultural items were beans, squash and chile peppers, with corn being introduced almost 2,000 years later. Eventually they discovered delicious ingredients such as avocados, coconuts, sweet potatoes, peanuts, amaranth, chia seeds, papayas, pineapples, prickly pears, tomatoes, manioc and more selections of beans.

The herb epazote was commonly used throughout dishes. This herb is similar to cilantro and it also has gas-reducing powers. Early meats included venison, quail, turkey, peccaries, pigeons, ducks and a wide variety of fish and shellfish.

Early traditional dishes included tortillas, tamales which can be both savory and sweet, atole and many soups. Eventually burritos, tacos, and salsa made it into the culinary picture.

Here is a list of some recipes you can make at home to celebrate this fun fiesta:


Beef and Cheese Enchiladas

adapted from mexican-barbecue-recipes.com


1   lb. lean ground beef

½   cup chopped onion

2   cloves garlic, crushed

½   tsp salt

¼   tsp pepper

2   10 oz cans enchilada sauce

8   small corn tortillas (6-7 inches diameter)

¾   cup shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese

1   Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro 

sour cream (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a large non-stick skillet, brown ground beef, onion and garlic over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until beef is no longer pink. Pour off grease.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in ½ cup enchilada sauce from one can. Set aside remaining sauce from that can.

Pour the second can of enchilada sauce into a shallow dish. Dip tortillas, one at a time, into sauce to coat both sides. Spoon beef mixture evenly down the center of each tortilla and roll up. Place beef enchiladas seam-side down in a 13x9-inch baking dish.

Cover dish and bake in oven for 15 minutes.

Uncover enchiladas. Spoon reserved enchilada sauce over beef enchiladas. Sprinkle with the cheese. Continue baking uncovered for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle liberally with cilantro. Serve with sour cream (optional).

Blue Cornmeal Chorizo Stuffing

adapted from homecooking.about.com


1 pound bulk chorizo sausage or bulk Italian sausage

1 cup chopped celery

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup chopped carrot

4 to 6 fresh serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crushed

6 cups coarsely crumbled Blue Corn Bread (see recipe below)

1/2 cup chicken broth


In a large skillet cook sausage, celery, onion, carrot, peppers, and garlic over medium heat about 10 minutes or until sausage is brown and vegetables are tender. Drain off fat. Stir in thyme and sage. In a large mixing bowl stir together crumbled corn bread and sausage mixture. Add broth, tossing to moisten. Use to stuff one 8- to 10-pound turkey. Spoon any stuffing that doesn't fit into the turkey into a casserole. Cover and chill. Bake, covered, during the last 30 minutes of roasting. Note: The internal temperature of the stuffing inside of the turkey should reach 165 degrees F.
Blue Corn Bread: In a small skillet cook 1/4 cup margarine or butter and 2 cloves garlic, minced, until garlic is tender. In a medium mixing bowl stir together 1-1/2 cups blue or yellow cornmeal, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another medium mixing bowl stir together 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, and margarine-garlic mixture. Add to cornmeal mixture. Stir just until batter is smooth. Pour into a greased 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Bake in a 425 degree F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack.
Makes 8 or 9 servings when served as a bread.

Mexican Ceviche

adapted from allrecipes.com


5 large lemons, juiced

1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, or to taste

Tomato and clam juice cocktail

2 white onions, finely chopped

1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped

1 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped

3 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced

1 bunch radishes, finely diced

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

tortilla chips


Place shrimp in a bowl. Add lemon, covering shrimp completely. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until opaque and slightly firm.

Add tomatoes, onions, cucumber, radishes, and garlic; toss to combine. Gradually add cilantro and jalapenos to desired taste (jalapeno will grow stronger while marinating). Stir in tomato and clam juices to desired consistency. Cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve chilled with tortilla chips.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

adapted from chow.com


Butter, for coating the baking dish

1 cup all-purpose flour

6 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

2/3 cup evaporated milk (not nonfat)

1/2 cup unsweetened canned coconut milk

1 tablespoon dark rum, such as Myers’s, plus more as needed

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon powdered sugar


Heat the oven to 325°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish with butter; set aside. Place the flour in a small bowl and whisk to aerate and break up any lumps; set aside.

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer. Reserve the whites in a separate, very clean, medium bowl. Add the sugar to the yolks and, using the paddle attachment, beat on high speed until pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl; set aside. Thoroughly clean and dry the stand mixer bowl. Place the egg whites in the clean bowl and, using the whisk attachment, whip on high speed until medium peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir about a third of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in the remaining whites. Sprinkle the flour over the egg mixture and gently fold it in, just until there are no more white flour streaks.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake until the cake is puffed and golden and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the three milks and the rum in a large bowl and whisk until combined; set aside.