Oh, amigos, it's time to debunk another myth.
Cinco de Mayo is NOT a celebration of Mexico's Independence Day. What we are celebrating on May 5 is the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla, known as the 'Batallia de Puebla.'
The Mexican-American War of 1946-48 had emptied the Mexican coffers. President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium suspending foreign debt payments for a period of two years, with the promise to resume payments after that time.
The English, Spanish and French refused to accept this, and decided instead to invade Mexico and get payments by whatever means possible. The Spanish and English eventually withdrew, but the French held on. Their intention was to create an empire in Mexico under Napoleon III.
The snappily uniformed French army, with its modern equipment and newly reconstituted Foreign Legion, had not been defeated in 50 years. They were not afraid of anyone, especially since the United States as embroiled in the Civil War.
The French army moved from their post on the coast at Vera Cruz to attack Mexico City, assuming that the Mexicans would give up if their capital city fell to the enemy, as was the European fashion.
The French sorely underestimated their New World enemy. Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza, Colonel Porfirio Diaz and 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizo and Zapotec Indians defeated the French army in what came to be known as the 'Batallia de Puebla' on the fifth of May 1862.
Zaragoza ordered Diaz to take his cavalry to the French flanks. In response, the French sicced their cavalry on Diaz and his men, who proceeded to butcher the French. The remaining French infantrymen charged the Mexican defenders through sloppy mud from a freak thunderstorm and through hundreds of head of stampeding cattle.
The Mexicans had won a great victory that kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for another year, allowing the Union army to garner might enough to crush the confederates at Gettysburg, essentially ending the Civil War.
Enough talk about conflict! What we are really concerned about is the cuisine that will be served at the fiesta!
Remember that we have Mexico to thank for our corn, beans, coconuts, avocados, mangoes, chilies, pumpkin and squash. Authentic Mexican cuisine is fresh, flavorful food prepared using methods that were new to the Old World: roasting, simmering, stewing and pit barbecuing.
An authentic Mexican food does not incorporate cheddar or Monterey jack cheese. Most Mexican cheeses are made of cow's milk. Look for queso Anejo (or angejo de Cotija) or queso Fresco sometimes called Queso Ranchero.
The complex mole sauce is more common to authentic cuisine than a red taco sauce.
It should come as no surprise that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a more grand scale north of the border than it is in sunny ol' Mexico. I like to think that is due purely to epicurean curiosity - it can't just be the tequila!
These authentic recipes are some I found years ago while researching Mexican cuisine. Simple to prepare, they are 'muy sabrosa' - very tasty/flavorful!
Grab a sombrero and cue the mariachi music - we're ready for a fiesta!
Bon Appetit! - Eat Locally!
Avocado and Tomatillo Salsa
Makes 2 ½ cups
2 cups coarsely chopped rinsed husked tomatillos
2 medium Serrano chilies with seeds, minced
2 large avocados, halved, peeled, pitted and diced
¾ cup chopped white onion
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Place tomatillos and chiles in food processor and pulse until a coarse puree forms. Pour puree into medium size bowl. Mix in avocados, white onion, cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Can be made four hours ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use.
Papaya Poached in Cinnamon-Lime Syrup
Makes 6 servings
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
3 1-pound papayas, halved, seeded, peeled and cut into ½ inch wedges
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
6 lime peel strips
1 cinnamon stick
Additional lime peels or zest for garnish
Bring water and sugar to boil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until syrup thickens slightly, about six minutes. Add papaya wedges, fresh lime juice, and lime peel strips and cinnamon stick. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until papayas are tender, about eight minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer papayas to a bowl. Boil syrup until reduced to one cup, about six minutes. Pour syrup over papayas and chill as least two hours and up to one day.
Spoon papayas and syrup into six dessert dishes. Garnish with sprinkle of lime zest.