Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cinco De Mayo Food & Fun

Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) is a celebration that appears on more and more American calendars, because it's one more excuse to enjoy Mexican cuisine.
An easy Cinco de Mayo buffet. Set out a pot of chili and some toppings and let everyone make their own meal.
Photo by Valerie Phillips

Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is actually on Sept. 16. 
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla. At that time, political chaos and several wars had wiped out Mexico's national economy, and the country was unable to pay the heavy debts it owed to France, Spain and England. France decided to use the debt issue to take over Mexico and install Napoleon's relative, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, as ruler.
France  invaded the coast of Mexico and began to march toward Mexico City. The United States was involved in its own Civil War at the time and was unable to intervene. Led by Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, the poorly equipped Mexican militia of about 4,500 managed to defeat the well-armed French army of 6,500. The victory was a glorious moment for Mexican patriotism, but it didn't last long. Napoleon sent 30,000 more troops, and a year later, the French took over Mexico City. Maximilian ruled the country for three years before Mexican forces again prevailed, and he was executed. Cinco de Mayo honors the bravery of Zaragoza's small, outnumbered militia. 
 In Mexico, the event is celebrated most vigorously in Puebla, where the battle took place. 
But it has become increasingly popular along the U.S.-Mexico border and in parts of the United States that have a high population of people with Mexican heritage. These days, the holiday is a celebration of Mexican culture, of food, music, beverages and customs.
For a quick-and-easy meal, do a buffet with chili, and let people make their own meal. 

Smoky Black Bean Chili  photo by Valerie Phillips

Here's my super-fast  Smoky Black Bean Chili recipe:


Chipotle chiles are smoked jalapeno peppers. You can find them in the Mexican food aisle, in small 7-ounce size cans with adobo sauce. One pepper packs a lot of flavor. If you want more heat, add one or two more. Don’t let the rest of the can go to waste; freeze it and then shave off a bit every time you need to add a little kick to a dish. Be sure to drain and rinse your canned beans first. I tried skipping this step, and the soup was wayyyyy to salty.

3 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons onion flakes

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 14-ounce can vegetable broth or chicken broth

2 cups salsa

1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, with 1 tablespoon of the sauce (or more if desired)

1 4-ounce can green chiles

2 teaspoons cumin

1/4 cup chopped cilantro, optional

Salt to taste

Grinds of freshly ground pepper to taste

Garnish: Sour cream, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, cheese, avocado

Pour 2 cans of the rinsed and drained beans into a blender with the onion flakes. Add broth or water and puree until slightly chunky. Pour into a large microwaveable bowl (about 2 1/2 quarts). Add the third can of beans to the bowl, along with the salsa, cumin, garlic and cilantro. Microwave on high for 10 minutes, until mixture is hot and bubbling. Add pepper or more cumin to taste. Makes 6 1-cup servings.


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