I grew up in Southern California and the neighborhood where I grew up was rather diverse. This was good for me as a child as I was given the opportunity to learn from direct exposure to the various cultures around me -- it was all next door. There was a Korean family on the corner and a Japanese family at the end of the street, there was a Jewish family that lived behind me and a Filipino family living next door to them.
There were two hispanic families that lived across the street from me, as well as another that lived two doors down. Each of these familys' heritage was from a different region of Mexico and it was funny sometimes when the women would get together to jointly prepare something for our little Cinco de Mayo block party -- there'd always be one standing with her arms crossed saying, "that's not how you do it..." On my street, there would be a neighborhood gathering each year to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and every year, the women mentioned above would get together and cook. That's where I learned to make tamales -- one of those years, I helped prepare hundreds of tamales for our little block party.
Cinco de Mayo is, might I dare say, celebrated more in the United States than it is even in Mexico. The day itself has history and yes, I'll touch on that but, the celebration, and the partying that accompanies it, is something that started in the southwestern United States during the mid-century. Latin music was popular during that time and it wasn't all Ricky Ricardo; Westside Story was a huge hit in 1961. There are critics to this celebration as well; there are those who say it is politically incorrect to associate Mexican culture with so much alcohol and I suppose they have a point, as they raise their margarita glass. Now, where did I put my drink?
I'm going to start with having a simple margarita; there's only 3 ingredients so, what could go wrong? The margarita drink was created in Mexico in the 1930's and it was, in the day, only served on the rocks. Today, of course, there are modifications to the drink that include being frozen and blended with a wide variety of flavored syrups. You can now make them sweet and fruity or hot and spicy. If you prefer your margarita's frozen and blended, all you need to do is place your ingredients in a blender and add 1 cup of ice for each serving and blend until smooth. You can skip the 1 cup of ice for blended drinks if you use frozen packaged fruit instead.
Next, you're going to want to have a basket of warm tortilla chips served with your favorite salsa. I like to roast my tomatoes, onions, and garlic prior to mixing my salsa for two reasons; first, I like the flavor of roasted salsa but secondly, it sure makes it a lot easier to peel the tomatoes. I start with roasting the tomatoes in the oven face up for 30 minutes and then I flip them over and roast them for another 30 minutes. At the end of cooking, the skins just slip right off. Another advantage of roasting the tomatoes is that it helps to separate excess water because for the second half-hour of roasting, they are face down which allows the water to drain off the fruit. Water within the salsa separating and floating to the top of your bowl is unappealing and there's a couple of ways to help reduce this occurrence. Roasting is one way as stated above, the other is to put your mixed salsa on the stovetop and bring it to a boil. You don't want to cook the salsa; you just want to evaporate some of the liquid off.
Historically speaking, I was one, like many others, who believed Cinco de Mayo was Mexico's Independence day. It isn't. I didn't learn the difference until my family took a vacation to Mexico City. I was about 12 years old, and I remember absorbing the history of everything I saw on that trip. We visited Maximilian and Carlota's castle in Chapultepec Park and what a beautiful location that was. I remember there were dozens of swans swimming in the lake surrounding the castle. It was on this vacation that I learned Cinco de Mayo was not Mexico's Independence day, that doesn't happen until September and it commemorates a whole different battle.
Cinco de Mayo (literally the Fifth of May) celebrates the day the French were defeated outside the walls of Puebla by Benito Juarez and his troops in 1862. This victorious battle over the French invasion took place during the mid-19th century when the United States was deep in Civil War. The French had invaded Mexico in an effort to set up a fake monarchy whereby they duped an Austrian Baron (Maximilian) and his competitive royal born wife (Carlota) to play the role of welcomed ambassadors.
The life story of Maximilian and Carlota is actually a rather sad one in that they were disillusioned by Napoleon, III into believing they would be as stated, welcomed in Mexico. The French only used Maximilian to get a foothold in the western continent and Maximilian was never welcomed. He, in the end, was executed by a firing squad after the battle of Puebla, and his wife, Carlota, lived out her remaining years somewhat secluded. She suffered from a lifetime of serious mental illness after her husband's death; she herself died in Germany in 1927 at the age of 86.
Enough with the history lesson, let's eat!
To help you get started with your own Cinco de Mayo celebration, I've added a few recipes below. I would've liked to have included a few more but I'm still in the process of rebuilding my website, so you'll need to get creative with your own marinated carrots and sopapillas.
Chile Con Cueso
Tortilla Crab Rolls
Chili Cheese Appetizers
Mexican Potato Salad
Acapulco Pot Roast
Note: This is a 13-minute Instructional Video
I hope you enjoyed today's posting and that you try some of these recipies, naked if you can :)
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