Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cinco de Mayo: Celebrate Mexican-Style

For many revelers, Cinco de Mayo has come to mean Margaritas and Mexican food, beer and balmy weather. But Cinco de Mayo isn't the celebration of Mexican independence, nor is it celebrated throughout Mexico. Festivities are generally confined to the state of Puebla, where in 1862, Mexican troops defeated an invading French army nearly double their strength. Citizens there still mark the occasion with a military parade honouring the Battle of Puebla, followed by a fiesta filled with music, dancing, and, most importantly, food. 

One of the liveliest and most colorful celebrations of the year, Cinco de Mayo is rapidly becoming a favourite springtime celebration with the ever-growing interest in Mexican art, culture and cuisine, so when May 5 rolls around, it's the perfect excuse to entertain. To do it right, forget the sour-cream-and-cheese-covered nachos and the margarita pre-mix, and focus instead on authentic dishes that are as complex and rich as the Mexican culture itself, from homemade Guacamole, Quesadillas, Baked Enchiladas, Stacked Tacos, delicate Mexican desserts to fruity Sangria and tart Margaritas. Add music and a festive setting, and you've got the makings of a fabulous fiesta. Viva Mexico!

Makes about 4 cups

Juice and grated zest of 2 limes - use a microplane to zest the limes
4 ripe Haas avocados

2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/2 small red onion, minced

1 cup chopped cilantro

1 tsp canned jalapeño peppers, drained and minced

4 very big pinches of salt

A few grinds white or black pepper

Zest and juice the limes into a medium bowl. Slice the avocados in half, skin, pit and then dice the avocados. As you dice each avocado, add it to the bowl and toss to coat with lime juice they don’t brown. Add the tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeño, salt and pepper and stir to combine well. Don’t be tempted to mash the avocados. Leave fairly chunky. Serve with tortilla chips and a cold Margarita.

Serves 6

1/2 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus 1 lime cut in half for the glasses
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup triple sec
1 cup white tequila

Pour the salt onto a small plate. Rub the outside rim of each glass with the cut lime. Dip each glass into the reserved salt and set aside. Place the lime juice, lemon juice, triple sec, and 3 cups ice in a blender, and purée on low speed until completely blended. Add the tequila and blend for 2 more seconds. Pour the Margaritas into the reserved glasses, over ice, and serve immediately with a garnish of sliced lime, if you wish.

Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole
Serves 4-6

3 zucchini, large dice
1 onion, diced
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 14-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen corn
4 cloves garlic, 1 minced and 3 whole
1 jalapeño
4 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, sliced
1 tbsp coriander
2 tbsp cumin
3 cups salsa
8 blue corn tortillas
3 cups white cheddar cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Sour cream, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss together the whole garlic cloves, jalapeño, onions, bell pepper, zucchini, and mushrooms with olive oil, coriander, cumin, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Pour the contents onto a baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes.

Place jalapeño in a bag for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile remove the 3 roasted garlic cloves from the pan and mince. Put frozen corn into a pan and sauté until they are slightly golden brown. Remove jalapeño from bag, peel then deseed and chop it up. Mix the corn, beans, garlic and jalapeño into the roasted vegetables.

Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with olive oil. Pour one cup of salsa into the bottom of the dish and lay four tortillas on top. You may have to cut them a little to make them fit. Spread half of the vegetable and bean mixture evenly on top of the tortillas and sprinkle with half of the cilantro. Pour 1 cup of salsa on top and spread it around evenly. Top with 1 1/2 cups of cheese. Repeat the layers beginning next with tortillas and ending with cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Cut and serve with sour cream.

Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Casserole
Serves 4-6

4 tbsp butter, divided
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
8 oz grated Monterey Jack cheese
Kosher salt
Hot pepper sauce
12 corn tortillas
1 12.5-ounce jar good quality salsa
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp dried oregano

Preheat oven to 375°F. Using 2 tablespoons of butter, generously grease the bottom and sides of a baking dish or cast iron skillet. In another skillet, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour and allow it to cook for a few minutes, then add the milk and whisk until smooth and thickened. Add a small handful of the grated cheese and stir through. Season with salt and hot pepper sauce.

Spoon about 1/4 cup of the cheese sauce into the bottom of a baking dish, spreading it around. Add the shredded chicken to the remaining cheese sauce and stir through. Layer 4 tortillas on the bottom of the baking dish, over the sauce. Spoon 1/3 of the salsa over the tortillas, then add half of the chicken/sauce mixture, half of the beans, a tablespoon of the oregano and 1/3 of the remaining cheese, distributing them fairly evenly. Cover with four more tortillas and repeat the layering. Top the next layer with the remaining tortillas, salsa and cheese. Bake for 35-40 minutes and allow to rest briefly before slicing. Serve with sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro.

Mexican Flan
Serves 8

2 to 3 cups sugar, plus 2 cups sugar
8 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Melt 2 cups sugar in saucepan over low heat and cook until golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Watch the sugar carefully as it can burn quickly. Put the caramel into individual custard cups, or one large flan dish, to cover the bottom. In mixing bowl add remaining sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Boil the milk, then slowly add to sugar egg mix whisking well. Strain through a fine strainer. Ladle the mixture into the caramel coated custard cups, filling 3/4 full. Put the filled cups into a water bath and cover. Cook for about 35 to 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature. To serve, run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto plates.