Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s first step towards independence and is celebrated throughout Mexico and North America every year on the 5th of May. For more on the back story of that momentous day (click here).
For this year’s Cinco de Mayo I wanted to focus on influences on Mexican cuisine that began with Hernan Cotes’ arrival on the Mexican gulf coast in 1519. There he established the port of Veracruz which was to be his launching point for the conquest of the Mexico. Marching inland Cortes captured the Aztec capital of Tenochttitlan and claimed Mexico for the Spanish crown in 1520.
After a little more than three centuries Spanish rule finally came to an end following a momentous victory in the Franco-Mexican war. A brief French occupation of Mexico followed but ended with a ragtag battle of Puebla on the 5th of May in 1862. The Cinco de Mayo defeat of the French in Puebla has been celebrated every year since.
With Cortes came many culinary influences from Spain, Cuba, as well as from West Africa communities in the Caribbean that forever changed native Mexican cooking. This is particularly apparent in the cuisines of the Gulf coast of Mexico as well as Caribbean coast of the Yucatan.
The recipes that follow reflect the melding of influences that make Mexican food so fascinating. There is a colorful story told with every bite!
- Mexican Citrus Chicken
- Flame Roasted Peppers & Jalapenos
- Yellow Rice
- Black Beans
Mexican Citrus Chicken: serves 4
- 4 chicken legs with thigh attached
- 2 lemons (or 3 limes), zest peeled into large strips and juiced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 12 garlic cloves peeled and very thinly sliced
- 8 sun dried tomatoes, reconstituted, and thinly sliced into small strips
- fresh marjoram leaves, about 2 tablespoons
- 4 teaspoons capers (optional)
- 2 onions, peeled and cut into thinly sliced rings
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper the chicken and press the seasoning onto the chicken and set aside.
Using a deep baking dish, combine the zest strips, lemon (or lime) juice, olive oil, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, marjoram leaves, and capers (if using). Whisk the ingredient together and then add the onions and toss together.
Add the chicken, exposed flesh side down, and using your hands gently massage the chicken in the mixture and arrange the chicken in the dish leaving some of the mixture in the bottom of the dish and covering the chicken with the remaining mixture. Firmly press the chicken into the marinade and cover the dish with cling film. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for up to six hours or overnight. Turn the chicken skin side down after several hours and return it to the refrigerator for several hours more.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 425f/220c
Turn the chicken skin side up. Massage the chicken in the marinade and then arrange the other ingredients around and on top of the chicken. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Baste the chicken with the pan juices. Add a little water if needed to ensure there is enough liquid in the bottom of the backing dish. Rotate the baking dish and roast another 30 minutes.
Once again baste the chicken with pan juices. If the surface of the chicken very brown loosely cover with foil and roast another 15 minutes.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serving: Plate the chicken along with the other ingredients placed over and around the chicken. Spoon pan juices over all and serve.
Quick Black Beans: Serves 4 to 6
- 2 8 ½ oz/240g cans of black beans
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil (or olive oil)
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, coarsley ground
- 2 dried red chillies, whole
- 2 to 3 cups stock or water, hot
- sea salt to taste
Heat a large saucepan over medium low heat. When hot add the oil and then the onions. Cook the onions, stirring now and again, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and the cumin seeds and cook 2 minutes while stirring.
Add the beans including their liquid and stir them into the onion mixture. Then slip in the whole chillies. When nearly boiling add 2 cups of nearly boiling hot stock or water and stir. Once boiling reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Taste the beans. You want them to be quite soft. If they are still a bit firm cook another 1o minutes.
Remove about ¾ of a cup of beans and place them in a bowl. Mash them until fairly smooth and then stir them back into the pot with the beans. At this point you may want to add a little more water if the beans in their broth seem very thick. Cook another 10 minutes while stirring. Add salt to taste and stir to combine. The beans should be very moist but not soupy.
Serve at once or set aside to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.
Flame Roasted Peppers, Jalapeno chilies:
- 2 red bell peppers
- 2 yellow bell peppers
- 6-8 green jalapenos
- 4 large garlic cloves, whole with skin on
- olive oil
- sea salt
For instructions for flame roasting (click here).
Once the peppers, jalapenos, and garlic are flame roasted and sweated, remove the skin and cut the peeled peppers and jalapenos in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and any pithy membranes and discard. Slice them into strips (rajas) and place them in a bowl.
Peel off the skin of the garlic cloves and thinly slice the cloves lengthwise and add them to the bowl of rajas. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt to taste. Toss until well combined, cover with cling film, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- 2 cups long grain rice, well rinsed
- water or stock
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads/ 1 teaspoon azafran (dried safflowers)/ or powdered turmeric
- sea salt.
Coloring the rice is optional, but it does add to the aesthetic appeal and well worth trying. True saffron adds a subtle color and flavor to the rice, while azafron (available in Mexican and some Asian markets) adds color only. Turmeric adds a yellow color with a pleasant subdued flavor and is readily available in supermarkets.
Put the rinsed rice in a large pot and cover with an equal part of water or stock. Stir in your seasoning of choice, as well as a pinch of sea salt. Place over medium heat and when boiling reduce the heat to a low simmer, partially cover with a lid, and cook about 15 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed into the rice. Be sure to stir frequently so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Promptly remove the pan from the heat and cover with a tight fitting lid. Set aside for about 20 minutes to steam.
Fluff the rice with a fork just before serving.
Now days Nochos are as much American as they are Mexican. The story of Nachos began in 1943 in the Mexican town of Pedros Negras across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. There is where Ignasio “Nacho” Anaya invented Nachos, nacho being the diminutive of Ignasio. By the 1950’s Ignacio’s creation spread across the US and Mex-Tex food became as American as apple pie.
And who doesn’t love nachos! Well, even today nachos can be a bit baffling for the uninitiated living beyond the Americas. Visually nachos do look like a “mash up” and then there is the challenge of how to eat them. With your hands… of course! With that all inhibitions are off the table and the fun begins. I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t love nachos.
Nachos have many incarnations and can veer well beyond the Ignacio’s original idea. Fast food joints are notorious for drowning the whole affair with a lava flow of processed cheese and mountains of faux sour cream.
My advice is to choose your ingredients with consideration so that that each ingredient’s flavor is complimentary, identifiable, and does justice to Ignasio’s original concept. Less is more makes all the difference here.
The recipe that follows does require the gathering together of several preparations made in advance, but there are some shortcuts. Mexican chorizo is readily available where there are Mexican communities and canned beans can be used in lieu of cooking them yourself. I highly recommend splurging on the corn tortilla chips and cheese. For this recipe I have used Garden of Eatin’ organic blue corn chips and Spanish Queso Manchego cheese. Queso Manchego is a semi hard sheep milk cheese from the arid plateau of La Mancha in central Spain with fruity, grassy, and tangy notes. It shaves beautifully and well worth a try.
Nachos can be served with drinks, as a snack, or even as a main course as I often do. I assure you nachos will become an all time favorite with friends and family and they will love you for all your efforts!
See sourcing tips in Chiang Mai below.
Blue Corn Nachos with Mexican Chorizo
- 1 teaspoon cold pressed peanut oil
- blue or yellow corn chips
- refried beans, warmed (see recipe here)
- Mexican chorizo warmed (see recipe here)
- Monchego cheese, thinly shaved (or other)
- sour cream or full fat Greek yogurt
- flame roasted tomato salsa (see recipe here)
Have ready a cast iron comal (grilling platter) or skillet.
preheat oven to 350f/180c
Lightly oil the cast iron platter or skillet. Arrange a layer of corn chips over the bottom of the platter and add a second layer of chips crisscrossing the first layer.
Spoon the refried beans here and there over the corn chips.
Generously spoon the chorizo over the chips and beans.
Distribute the shaved cheese over all.
Transfer the platter to the oven and heat for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is just melted.
Remove from the oven and add dollops of sour cream or Greek Yogurt over the nachos.
Serve with the flame roasted tomato salsa which pulls all the flavors together!
Sourcing tips for those of you who live in Chiang Mai
For those of you who don’t have a cast iron comal or skillet, Rimping at Promenada have stocked a rugged looking skillet that looks perfectly functional at just under 1000 Baht!
Top’s Market has a full selection of Garden of Eatin” organic corn chips and well worth the 115 Baht.
Rimping Markets carry El Charro Nacho Chips which are made with stone ground masa. They are the real thing and made in Thailand.
Canned beans are available at Top’s Markets and Rimping Markets. Rimping at Maya has recently added black beans to their selection!
For an an alternate cheese source check out Wine Connection’s retail cheeses and meats. They often have cheeses that are not available at other retailers and their prices are generally cheaper.
Paul’s Cold Pressed Peanut Oil is available at Rimping Markets. Wonderful peanut flavor and the perfect substitute for lard when cooking Mexican food
I’m always adjusting and tweaking salsa recipes to use for specific dishes. A slight twist to a tried and true salsa recipe can transform the taste with the slightest of hand. And to be honest it’s just an excuse to fool around in the kitchen and come up with what may be the next best salsa to add to your repertoire.
Flame roasting brings out flavors that no other cooking method can achieve and why grilling is so popular. Searing with intense heat releases otherwise lost flavors. In this case tomatoes and fresh chilies are charred on the outside with a sweetened flesh and an overall smokiness.
The results speak for themselves!
Rustic Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa makes about 3 cups
- about 1 ¾ ponds/800 grams firm vine ripe tomatoes
- 3-4 jalapeno chiles/ about 2 ounces/ 60 grams
- 1 onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rings
- 5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- about 1 ¼ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 2 teaspoons Jerez sherry wine vinegar
- 5 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves or 1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh marjoram leaves
Flame roast the tomatoes and jalapenos on your stove top or outdoor grill (see here) . Set aside in a bowl until cool enough to handle.
Then, working over a bowl peel off and discard about half of the charred skin from the tomatoes and the jalapenos, leaving the remaining charred skin in tact as this will add a smokiness to the salsa.
Slice the tomatoes on a cutting board into quarters and remove the white inner core and chop each quarter in half being mindful to scrape all the juices into the bowl as you work. Set the tomatoes aside to use later.
Likewise, using another bowl peel off and discard about half of the charred skin from the jalapenos, leaving the remaining charred skin in tact. Slice the jalapenos in half on a cutting board and remove the firm white vein and some of the seeds if you like and discard. Chop the jalapenos and set side to use later.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c
Peel and slice the onion into rings about ¼ inch thick. Place the onion slices and peeled garlic on a small baking tray, drizzle with the olive oil, and toss. Place the tray in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes, turning the onions once while roasting. When the onions are nicely browned and charred along some edges and the garlic is colored and browned in spots, remove the tray from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until the tomatoes are evenly chopped but not pureed. Transfer the tomatoes back into their bowl.
Then add the jalapenos, roasted onions, and garlic to the processor and pulse until well chopped and transfer them to the bowl of tomatoes and stir to combine.
Add the salt, vinegar, and cilantro (or marjoram) to the bowl and mix everything together until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
Transfer the salsa to a non-reactive container, seal with a lid, and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Serve the salsa chilled or at room temperature.
Both Mexican and New Mexican inspired, this oven braised chicken recipe is really simple to make and delivers rustic succulent tender chicken with a crisped red chile skin as well as an assertive picante sauce to boot. Serve with frijoles (beans) ola, or frijoles refritos (see here), along with rice and you have a truly Mexican meal you will be revisiting again and a gain.
Oven Braised Red Chile Chicken serves 4
- 4 chicken thighs with legs attached
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
- 2 tablespoons crushed fresh sage leaves
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons pure red chile powder (New Mexican if available)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 ½ cups chicken stock or water
Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
Select a deep clay or ceramic baking dish that will be large enough to hold the chicken along with the stock.
Combine the onions, garlic, cumin seeds, sage, lime juice, honey, and oil in the baking dish and stir until well combined. Stir in the salt and red chile powder and taste, adding more salt and chile to your liking.
Add the chicken to the baking dish and using you hands (you may want to use disposable gloves) turn the chicken in the marinade while massaging the ingredients into the flesh. Then press the chicken into the marinade until evenly covered. Cover the baking dish with cling film and refrigerate for several hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 f/190 c with the rack in the center of the oven.
Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
Toss the chicken once again in the marinade and then turn the chicken skin side up in the baking dish. Tuck the bay leaves between the chicken pieces and spoon some of the marinade including the onions etc over the chicken.
Pour the stock into the baking dish around the edges leaving the top skin of the chicken exposed and transfer the baking dish to the oven.
Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes. This may seem like a long time but the chicken braising in the liquid produces a very tender flesh while the exposed skin will be very crisp and partially charred which adds a rustic flavor to the dish as a whole.
Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent with foil loosely.
Skim off the chicken fat that has risen to the top of the sauce and discard or save for another purpose.
Place the chicken on individual serving plates. Add the beans and rice around it and spoon the sauce generously over the chicken and serve.