Make your Cinco de Mayo fiesta extra flavorful with these awesome recipes

Of course you're going to serve margaritas and guacamole and chips at your party. But we have a couple of other food suggestions for your fiesta, too.

If all special occasions were as conveniently named as Cinco de Mayo, there would never be another forgotten anniversary or birthday.

After all, how can you miss a date when it is built into the name of the event? (Shout-out to the Fourth of July!)

While there may not be much uncertainty about the timing of the Mexican holiday, there is some confusion about its origin. It is not a celebration of the country’s  independence — that date is Sept. 16 — but the anniversary of an unlikely military victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday; commemorations are mostly limited to the state of Puebla, where the conflict took place. In the United States, however, the day is viewed as a celebration of Mexican culture, especially the food and drink.

So, say si to these dishes that are perfect for a Cinco de Mayo fiesta, or for any time you want to add some Mexican flavor to your meal.

Classic Margaritas
“We wanted to develop the ideal version of this refreshing cocktail with the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and tart flavors. Tests revealed that reposado, or ‘rested,’ tequila had a flavor that blended perfectly with the other ingredients. Equal proportions of tequila, triple sec, and citrus juice made for a well-balanced cocktail. … To serve the margaritas immediately, omit the zest and skip the steeping process in step 1.” Makes 4 to 6 servings.

4 teaspoons finely grated lime zest, plus 1/2 cup juice (4 limes)
4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus 1/2 cup juice (3 lemons)
1/4 cup superfine sugar
Pinch salt
2 cups crushed ice
1 cup 100 percent agave tequila, preferably reposado
1 cup triple sec

1. Combine lime zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, sugar and salt in 2-cup liquid measuring cup; cover and refrigerate until flavors meld, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

2. Divide 1 cup ice among 4 to 6 margarita or double old-fashioned glasses. Strain juice mixture into 1-quart pitcher or cocktail shaker; discard solids. Add tequila, triple sec and remaining 1 cup ice. Stir or shake until thoroughly combined and chilled, 20 to 60 seconds. Strain into ice-filled glasses and serve immediately.

— All recipes from “The Best Mexican Recipes: Kitchen-Tested Recipes Put the Real Flavors of Mexico Within Reach,” by America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, 318 pp., $29.99)

Chunky Guacamole
“Very ripe avocados are key in this recipe; a ripe avocado should yield slightly to a gentle squeeze. If in doubt of ripeness, try to remove the small stem; it should flick off easily and reveal green underneath. Look for the small, dark, pebbly-skinned Hass variety. To minimize the risk of discoloration, prepare the minced ingredients first so they are ready to mix in as soon as the avocados are cut. Serve with homemade tortilla chips.” Makes about 3 cups.

Chunky GuacamoleServe this chunky guacamole with tortilla chips at your Cinco de Mayo party. (Daniel J. van Ackere)

3 ripe avocados
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1. Halve 1 avocado, remove pit and scoop flesh into medium bowl. Add cilantro, jalapeno, onion, lime juice, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt and cumin, and mash with potato masher (or fork) until mostly smooth.

2. Halve, pit and dice remaining 2 avocados. Add cubes to bowl with mashed avocado mixture and gently mash until mixture is well combined but still coarse. (Guacamole can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours with plastic wrap pressed directly against its surface.) Season with salt to taste before serving.

Classic Arroz Con Pollo
“Mexican arroz con pollo, literally ‘rice with chicken,’ is a satisfying one-dish meal. We opted for flavorful dark-meat chicken thighs, removing any visible pockets of fat and some of the skin before cooking to minimize greasiness. Once the chicken was done, we removed the skin, which had protected the meat during cooking; it didn’t crisp in the moist environment of the closed pot. Using spoons rather than forks to pull the meat apart ensured that we ended up with chunks, not shreds. To keep the dish from becoming greasy, it is important to remove excess fat and most of the skin from the chicken thighs, leaving just enough skin to protect the meat. To use long-grain rice instead of medium-grain, increase the amount of water to 3/4 cup.” Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Latino-Style Chicken and Rice (Arroz con Pollo)Arroz con pollo means “rice with chicken.” (Daniel J. van Ackere)

6 garlic cloves, minced
5 teaspoons distilled white vinegar, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped finely
1 small green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped finely
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro, divided
13/4 cups chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/4 cup water, plus extra as needed
3 cups medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup pitted green Manzanilla olives, halved
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1/2 cup jarred whole pimentos, cut into 2- by 1/4-inch strips
Lemon wedges

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine garlic, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and oregano in large bowl. Add chicken, toss to coat and marinate for 15 minutes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, bell pepper and pepper flakes, and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in
2 tablespoons cilantro.

3. Clear center of pot and increase heat to medium-high. Add chicken, skin side down, to center of pot and cook until outer layer of meat becomes opaque, 2 to 4 minutes per side, reducing heat if chicken begins to brown. Stir in broth, tomato sauce and water. Bring to simmer, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Stir in rice, olives, capers and 3/4 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven and cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until chicken registers 175 degrees, about 30 minutes. (If, after 20 minutes of cooking, rice appears dry and bottom of pot begins to scorch, stir in 1/4 cup extra water.)

5. Transfer chicken to cutting board; cover pot and set aside. Using 2 spoons, pull chicken into large chunks; discard skin and bones. Place chicken in large bowl; toss with pimentos, remaining 2 teaspoons vinegar, remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro; and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place chicken on top of rice, cover and let stand until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Braised Pork Loin With Black Mole Sauce
“Hailing from the state of Oaxaca, black mole is also known as mole negro. This thick, complexly flavored sauce consists of dried chiles, spices, tomatillos, tomatoes, cocoa, dried or fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. Its intense, subtly bitter flavor and deep brown, almost black color sets it apart from other moles. Usually paired with meat or poultry, it functions as both a sauce and a cooking medium. For our version, we chose to pair the mole with pork, which is one of the most commonly used proteins of the Oaxaca region. … You can find black cocoa powder in specialty stores or online. While we prefer the deeper flavor of black cocoa powder in this recipe, Dutch-processed cocoa powder also works well. Serve with rice.” Makes 6 servings.

Braised Pork Loin with Mole PoblanoFor a different flavor for Cinco de Mayo, try braised pork loin with black mole, which is a sauce from the Mexican region of Oaxaca. (Carl Tremblay)

4 pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into 1/2-inch pieces (1 cup)
1 (21/2- to 3-pound) boneless pork loin roast, fat trimmed to 1/4 inch, tied at 11/2-inch intervals
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tomatillos, husks and stems removed, rinsed well, dried and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tomato, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
3 tablespoons black or Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted, divided
2 tablespoons raisins

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Toast pasilla chiles in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 2 to 6 minutes; transfer to bowl.

2. Pat roast dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in now-empty pot over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown roast well on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes; transfer to plate.

3. Add onion to fat left in pot and cook over medium heat until softened and well browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, oregano, cloves and cinnamon, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatillos and tomato, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in broth, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in peanuts, cocoa, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, raisins, toasted pasillas, 1 teaspoon salt and
1/2 teaspoon pepper and bring to simmer.

4. Nestle browned pork fat side up into pot along with any accumulated juices. Cover, transfer pot to oven and cook until pork registers 140 degrees, 40 minutes to 1 hour.

5. Transfer pork to carving board, tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, process cooking liquid in blender until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Remove twine from roast, slice into 1/4-inch-thick slices and transfer to serving platter. Spoon 1 cup sauce over pork, sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sesame seeds and serve with remaining sauce.


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