¡Viva Mexico! Some Favorite Recipes for Cinco De Mayo

Every May 5th Americans take the opportunity to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican food and, of course, margaritas.  While many confuse the holiday with Mexican Independence Day, it is actually a commemoration of a battle that occurred 50 years after Mexican Independence during the Franco-Mexican War.  While a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, here it has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations.

Mexican food is a favorite with my family and many of the students of Taste & Technique.  Over the years we’ve had a lot of Mexican Cooking Classes for both adults and children – the meals are fairly easy and turn out really well.  Here are a few of my favorite recipes from both my personal recipe books and our classes.

My first experience with authentic fajitas was in San Antonio, Texas.  From the first bite I was crazy about the tender meat with hints of citrus flavor.  I was so disappointed when I came back to New Jersey only to find the fajitas common to chain restaurants lacked any depth of flavor.  Years later, I came upon this lime marinade and tried it on both beef and chicken.  The flavor was just what I was looking for.  This is my “go to” recipe when I want to make an authentic tasting fajita dinner:

Lime & Chile Marinade
1 cup freshly squeeze lime juice

1/4 cup canola oil 
1 large jalepeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a large ziplock bag.   Add flank steak, skirt steak or chicken breasts.  (If using whole chicken breasts, slice in half lengthwise.)  Marinate in refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.

Remove meat from marinade and grill over medium-high heat until desired temperature (my husband likes using soaked mesquite chips on the coals of the grill to add more authenticity.)  Let meat rest for 5-10 minutes after grilling to seal in juices before cutting into thin strips.

Meanwhile, drain onion mixture from marinade.   Thinly slice an extra onion along with two or three red, yellow or green peppers.  Add these to a large frying pan along with the drained onion mixture.  Sauté over high heat until onions and peppers become soft and caramelized.  

Serve the fajitas with the cooked onions, warmed tortillas, pico de gallo and guacamole.  

Pico de Gallo
2 large tomatoes, chopped and seeded
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 jalepeño pepper, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 heaping tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed limed juice
Pinch of sugar
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Allow the Pico de Gallo to stand for 1 hour for the flavors to meld.    

2 ripe avocados
2 Tb. fresh lime juice
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
3/4 tsp. salt

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise and throw away the pits.  Scoop the avocado away from the skin with a spoon and put into a medium mixing bowl.   Mash the avocados with a large fork.   Add the remaining guacamole ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined.

Chicken Enchiladas – Serves 10
At first glance the ingredients in this recipe do not look very appealing but the end result is a terrific make-ahead dish that is easy enough for kids to make but flavorful enough for the whole family.  We like to use this recipe in our  classes because it doesn’t involve any stovetop cooking making it very kid friendly!

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 Tbs. water
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp.  ground cumin
½ tsp.  salt
¼ tsp.  pepper
5 cups diced cooked chicken
10 flour tortillas (6 inches), room temperature
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 cup sour cream
1 cup milk
1 cans (4 ounces each)chopped green chilies
1 cup  shredded Cheddar cheese

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, water, onion powder, cumin, salt and pepper until smooth. Stir in chicken.  Place ¼ cup of mixture down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place seam side down in two greased 13 x 9 x 2″  baking dishes. In a bowl, combine the soup, sour cream, milk and chilies; pour over enchiladas.

Bake, uncovered, at 350°F for 30-40 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle  with cheddar cheese; bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. 

Quesadillas with Assorted Fillings
Quesadillas are a very easy meal that can be made from any variety of ingredients.   They are a great way to put a new twist on leftover proteins and vegetables.  Chef Diana Albanese shared this recipe in one of our kitchen basic bootcamps.

Basic Quesadillas 
– serves 4
Four-6” flour tortillas
1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
6 scallions, trimmed and chopped
1 cup (4 oz.) grated cheddar cheese or other type


Broiler Method: Cooking quesadilla under the broiler is faster and lets you make four at once, as opposed to using a skillet.  Set broiler on high heat, place rack 6” from heat source.  Brush 1 side of tortillas with oil; put oil side down on sheet pan.  Sprinkle cheese and scallions evenly over four tortillas.  Put under broiler until cheese melts then fold tortillas in half.  Continue to cook turning once until tortillas are golden and crisp on both sides.  About 2-5 minutes total.

Skillet Method:  Brush 1 side of tortillas with oil; put oil side down in nonstick skillet.  Sprinkle cheese and scallions evenly over tortilla.  Cook over medium heat until cheese starts to melt then fold tortilla in half.  Continue to cook turning once until tortilla is golden and crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes total.   Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Cut quesadillas in half and serve with salsa, pico de gallo and sour cream. 

Additional Fillings
Refried beans

Grilled vegetables
Roasted red peppers
Rotisserie chicken, shrimp or pulled pork
Store bought salsas and sauces like habanero chili sauce
Sour cream
Chopped mango, papaya, cilantro

If these recipes have piqued your interest in Mexican cooking we have two Cinco de Mayo classes this year on May 3rd.  We figured with the holiday falling on a Sunday, we would offer both children and adult classes the Friday before inspiring our students to create their own Mexican Fiesta!

Supper Club: Celebrate Cinco de Mayo – Ages 10 & up – May 3rd, 4-6pm  CLICK HERE

Mexican Fiesta with Chef Heather Harm – May 3rd, 7-10pm CLICK HERE

¡Disfrutar!  (enjoy!)