Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, observes the Mexican army's surprising victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. According to Wikipedia: “The Battle of Puebla was important for at least two reasons: First, although considerably outnumbered, the Mexicans defeated a much better-equipped French army. Second, it was significant because since the Battle of Puebla no country in the Americas has been invaded by an army from another continent.”
Except for a national day off work, Cinco de Mayo has had minimal significance as a Mexican holiday beyond the region of Puebla, but it is widely observed in the United States and in other parts of the world as a festive celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. The festivities have come to recognize a significant segment of diversity in our country.
Like Mexico’s history and culture, Mexican cuisine is rich in seasonings, flavor and color. Mexican dishes utilize fresh fruit and vegetables, many pork, beef and chicken parts, strong peppers and various sauces. The basics for many Mexican meals are beans and corn with corn mostly converted to masa, a dough for tortillas, tamales and gorditas. The most popular seasonings are garlic, onions, oregano, cilantro, chili powder, cinnamon and chipotle, a smoke-dried jalapeno chili. Peppers of all flavor and intensity are used in many dishes to “heat up” the flavor.
Over time, many Mexican dishes have been “Americanized” to blend Mexican favorites with American tastes. For example, nachos, chimichangas and the crunchy tacos we know from Taco Bell are not native Mexican foods but have been adapted through our longstanding ties and close borders to Mexico.
The recipes below are examples of such blending. Both offer a taste of the Mexican cuisine, in the context of American eating. This shrimp enchilada recipe is one of the easiest, healthiest and tastiest ones I have found. And the pie, well, taste for yourself. Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Tomatillo Shrimp Enchiladas (makes 8)
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
½ medium green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1¼ pounds medium shrimp, shelled, deveined and cut in half crossways
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground cumin
8 corn tortillas
1 10-oz jar tomatillo salsa (such as La Victoria)
3 Tbsp half-and-half
1 cup shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese
1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper, cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp, cook an additional 3 minutes, until shrimp is opaque. Stir in corn, ¼ cup water, chili powder and cumin. Heat through.
2. Heat oven to 375º. Coat a 13” x 9” x 2” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
3. Wrap four tortillas in damp paper towels. Microwave 300 seconds. Brush one side of each tortilla with salsa. Spoon ½ cup shrimp mixture on each, roll up and place seam-side down in prepared dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Top with any extra filling.
4. Mix remaining salsa with half-and-half. Spoon over enchiladas. Top with cheese. Bake at 375º, uncovered, for 15 minutes, or until bubbly hot.
Frozen Margarita Pie (9” pie serves 6-8)
For the Crust:
1 cup finely crushed pretzels
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted
For the Filling:
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
1-2 Tbsp tequila
1 Tbsp orange liqueur
Several drops green food coloring (optional)
1 cup whipping cream
Lime slices (optional)
For the Crust:
1. Stir together crushed pretzels and sugar. Stir in melted margarine or butter. Spread mixture evenly into a 9-inch pie plate. Press onto bottom and sides to form a firm, even crust.
2. Bake in a preheated 375 degrees F oven for 5 minutes or till edge is lightly browned. Cool on a rack.
For the Filling:
1. In a large mixing bowl combine sweetened condensed milk, limeade concentrate, tequila, orange liqueur, and, if desired, food coloring.
2. In a medium mixing bowl beat whipping cream till soft peaks form; fold into tequila mixture.
3. Spoon filling into crust. Cover and freeze about 4 hours, or till firm. Let stand 10 min. before serving. If desired, garnish with lime slices.