Cinco de Mayo!
It’s Cinco de Mayo!! Well, actually, it’s really only Dos de Mayo, but I want to talk about things early to give you time to prepare. What is Cinco de Mayo? It’s the day we celebrate delicious Mexican cuisine and all things Margarita! I know. I know. That is only partially true. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the day in 1862 (May 5, 1862) when Mexican forces defeated the French army in the Battle of Puebla. It was a battle they had little chance of winning, so their victory was kind of a big deal. Cinco de Mayo is still celebrated in Mexico, but not with anything near the fervor that Americans have attached to the day. At its best, the American celebrations are an exploration and tribute to the heritage, culture and traditions of our neighbors to the south. At its worst, it is marketing madness and an excuse to indulge in as many Margaritas as possible before Seis de Mayo dawns.
I love a good Margarita as much as the next girl, but you will not typically find me flitting from Mexican restaurant bar to Mexican restaurant bar this weekend. I think I’m getting too old for the craziness. I don’t go out on New Year’s Eve either. I mean, I own a brewery with a busy taproom that we closed at 9 pm on New Year’s Eve! Yup. Too old for the craziness.
I do enjoy the cuisine of Mexico and have followed the career of Chicago Chef Rick Bayless for years, watching him rise to prominence as America’s expert on Mexican food, blending respect for tradition with innovation and delicious creativity. He has inspired me to try many new dishes, including making my own homemade tortillas! Because I have been making tortillas on a fairly regular basis lately, I decided that I would celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year—although from the comfort of my own kitchen. I do plan to offer a quick tutorial on making easy flour tortillas one day soon, but until then, I want to share my Cinco de Mayo menu with you.
Another famous chef, Ludo Lefebvre, has come up with an interesting new take on guacamole. He has replaced the avocado with broccoli florets and calls his creation BROCCOMOLE. Nothing against the traditional avocado---I love them, but this is very interesting and worth a try. I will also be serving ELOTES, which is a MEXICAN STREET CORN SALAD. You will most often see Elotes (eh-LO-tay) as a corn cob on a stick, grilled, ever so lightly charred, slathered with a spicy sour cream or crema and smothered in a Mexican crumbled cheese called cotija (co-TEE-ha).
My version takes the corn off the cob, pairs it with black beans and other delicious tidbits and ties it all together with a creamy sauce that substitutes yogurt for the sour cream. And yes, it is smothered in cotija! I put my homemade flour tortillas to use with cheesy TURKEY AVOCADO QUESADILLAS. All of the flavor with much less of the guilt after I sub ground turkey for ground beef and use a can of vegetarian refried beans rather than the traditional version that features (tasty, but not heart healthy) lard.
Of course, we must concoct a fitting beverage to accompany this feast. I’m going to steer away from the classic Margarita this time and share one of my summertime favorites. Sangria! This Spanish libation can be made with either red, white or rosé wine in which delicious fruit is macerated. There are as many ways to make it as there are wine varietals and seasonal fruits. RED WINE SANGRIA can be dressed up or dressed down, but refreshing and chilled on a warm May afternoon, it puts the Fiesta into the feast. Feliz Cinco de Mayo, amigos!
(Recipe courtesy of Chef Ludo Lefebvre)
Makes about 2 cups
1 pound broccoli florets
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (from 2-3 limes)
Zest from limes
1/3 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup tomatoes, seeded and diced
1-2 chilies, diced (jalapeño or serrano, seeded if very hot)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon sea salt
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook florets until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Scoop florets into a large bowl of cold water to cool them quickly. When cool, drain florets and squeeze out as much water as possible with your hands.
Pulse the broccoli in a food processor until finely chopped, then turn out into a mesh strainer and drain any remaining liquid. Add fully drained broccoli to a bowl and stir in remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or lime juice if needed. Serve with tortilla chips or however you would serve traditional guacamole.
ELOTES - MEXICAN STREET CORN SALAD
FOR THE DRESSING:
½ cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
FOR THE SALAD:
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ears of corn, shucked, kernels removed (or 3 cups of frozen corn kernels, defrosted)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 Tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed if canned
1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
½ cup red onion, chopped
½ cup cilantro, chopped
½ cup cotija cheese (may sub crumbled feta or grated parmesan)
Mix all dressing ingredients and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and corn kernels. Cook fresh corn about 15 minutes, stirring frequently until corn starts to char a bit and becomes tender. (Defrosted corn kernels will take a shorter time.) When done, gently toss with lime juice and salt.
In a large bowl, combine cooked corn, black beans, bell pepper, onion, cilantro and cheese. Drizzle dressing over and mix well. Serve either warm or chilled. Great as a side dish, over tacos or as a dip for tortilla chips.
TURKEY AVOCADO QUESADILLAS
Makes 8 servings
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 cup pickled jalapeños, chopped
1 heaping Tablespoon taco seasoning (a blend of cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt, etc)
8 (8 inch) flour tortillas
1 can refried beans (I use a fat-free vegetarian type)
2 avocados, peeled and sliced
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, Colby, pepper jack—your favorite, or a blend)
2 Tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add ground turkey and cook until all pink is gone, about 5 minutes, crumbling the turkey as it cooks. Stir in the chopped pickled jalapeños and taco seasoning and set aside.
To prepare a quesadilla, spread one quarter of the can of refried beans over a tortilla, covering completely, edge to edge. Top refried bean spread with one quarter of the ground turkey mixture, then arrange slices of half of one avocado. Top that with ½ cup of shredded cheese. Place another plain tortilla on top. Repeat with remaining tortillas to make 4 quesadillas.
Place quesadillas onto prepared baking sheet. Two should fit on a standard sized sheet pan. Place into preheated oven and bake until cheese has melted, about 8-10 minutes.
When finished, cut in half and serve immediately, garnished with cilantro, if desired.
RED WINE SANGRIA
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water
3-4 cups (about 1 bottle) dry red table wine
½ cup brandy (traditional, but I usually leave this out)
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 large apple, sliced
1 whole orange, sliced
1 cup strawberries, sliced
Club soda or other sparkling water (optional)
Add water and sugar to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. When sugar is fully dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool. This is the recipe for a Simple Syrup. (Equal parts water and sugar)
Add red wine, brandy (if using), pomegranate juice, apples, oranges and strawberries to a large pitcher. Add cooled simple syrup and stir.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. For best results, make a day in advance and chill overnight.
To serve, pour into wine glass along with a few pieces of fruit if desired. May be served over ice and/or topped with club soda for a little effervescence. Do not add ice or club soda to the pitcher, as this will dilute the sangria and take all the fizz out of the club soda.