by Kate Heyhoe
Cinco de Mayo has gone mainstream. What used to be a little known holiday of significance only to Mexicans and people of Mexican descent has evolved into an excuse for salsa parties and tequila. It's often confused with Mexican Independence Day, Diez y Seis or the 16th of September, but in fact commemorates an entirely different event.
May 5th, or Cinco de Mayo, observes the anniversary of the 1862 battle of Puebla de Zaragoza, in which Mexican forces defeated French invaders against overwhelming odds. Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1812, fifty years before the battle of Puebla. But during these intervening years, Mexico had trouble maintaining itself as an independent nation. Texas seceded from Mexico, the Mexican-American War followed, and the national treasury underwent a severe crisis.
In 1861, President Benito Juarez declared the nation bankrupt and ceased payment on all foreign debt, much of which was owed to France. In response, Napoleon III sent 5,200 well-armed French troops to Mexico, landing at Veracruz on a mission to Mexico City. President Juarez rallied 4,700 poorly equipped locals, and under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragosa, they battled the advancing French troops—and won. In just two hours of fighting, the French retreated. The French returned a year later and captured Mexico City, installing Emperor Maximilian as monarch for the next four years, but the Battle of Puebla is forever remembered as a source of Mexican national pride and patriotism.
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo celebrations typically focus on margaritas, quesadillas and fried ice cream. But popular chef and Mexican culinary expert Rick Bayless avoids the cliché dishes and has instead prepared an authentic and festive menu that celebrates Cinco de Mayo with the respect it deserves.
Emerald Corn Chowder is an elegant alternative to nachos and other Mexican-influenced finger foods, and starts the Mexican menu on just the right note. A rich and full-flavored soup, it blends a few traditional ingredients—corn, tomatillos, garlic, and cilantro-with chicken stock and Tabasco green pepper sauce.
The entreé of Chipotle Peppered Steak with Smoky Caramelized Onions marinates steak in a robust mixture of garlic, oregano, and Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce. Topped with caramelized red onions coated in a thick sauce, it's an easy, authentic Mexican dish that makes a spicy and smoky centerpiece.
Bayless wraps up the meal with Tangy Mango Upside Down Cake—a traditional-style spice cake that combines a sour cream and brown sugar mix with cinnamon, vanilla, allspice and pepper sauce. What differentiates this spice cake from others is the fruit topping of mangoes, brown sugar, and lime juice spiked with Tabasco sauce. It's delicate in texture, vibrant in flavor, and pairs well with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.
¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Plus: 50 more Mexican recipes in the Global Gourmet's Mexico section.
For more recipes, try our Search feature.
Kate's Global Kitchen for May 2003:
5/02/03 Spicing Up Cinco de Mayo
5/09/03 For Mom, a Bouquet of Vanilla
5/16/03 An Army Moves on Its Stomach
5/23/03 Burger Building—for Fun or Profit
5/30/03 Mint, Mint, and More Mint
Copyright &Copy; 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.