Cinco de Mayo is my favorite excuse for Margaritas and tacos. Mexican culture is so much about food and entertainment that it seems just natural to jump on the occasion and have a little gathering. Put together an easy celebration with some Latin beats, tacos that will pleasantly surprise your guests, and a special Margarita that remains true to the flavors of Mexico while still mixing up the standard combination.
Here is the scoop on Cinco de Mayo: First, it is not the Mexican equivalent of the Fourth of July/Independence Day — that would be September 16. Unbeknownst to many, yours truly included until recently, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of an outnumbered Mexican army against the occupying French Army in the town of Puebla. Second, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Puebla but gets little recognition in other parts of Mexico, which makes it a holiday more often celebrated in the United States than in the Mexican motherland.
Cocktail: Smoky Twist on a Classic
Combining the two traditional spirits of Mexico, the classic clean tequila and its smokey cousin, mezcal, seems like an appropriate way to celebrate the culture of Mexico. In this cocktail, I wanted to add a different dimension to the drink with the cilantro, a popular herb used so often in the Mexican cuisine. I tried infusing the cilantro into the tequila at one point and into the simple syrup at another point, but the best idea proved to be muddling the cilantro fresh as the cocktail is prepared. Just be sure you strain well before you pour it in the glass.
(makes 1 drink)
1 ounce Proximus tequila
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce Sombra Mezcal
10 fat springs of cilantro
Muddle the cilantro really well. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake over ice for at least 15 seconds. Strain and serve up in a chilled large Martini glass. (See more tequila cocktail recipes.)
Music: Rodrigo y Gabriela
For a festive, upbeat and Mexican vibe, play some songs by Rodrigo y Gabriela, a modern Mexican musical duo made up of Rodrigo Sánchez, lead guitar, and Gabriela Quintero, rhythm guitar. These two specialize in playing fast, rhythmic acoustic guitars in a style that is grounded in flamenco but ranges from jazz to rock without a flinch. It is impossible not to love their tunes. (Take a look at some other playlists for Cinco de Mayo.)
Food: Fresh Take on Tacos
Instead of the usual variety, try these tacos made with a traditional Mexican cheese, Cotija, a hard and very salty cow’s milk cheese. Blue corn tortillas make it more interesting to the eye, but white corn tortillas are a very competent replacement. Make your own salsa for these — always.
(recipe makes 4 tacos)
8 blue corn tortillas
8 ounces grated Cotija cheese
1 avocado, smashed
Serve each taco with:
4 ounces fresh tomatillo salsa (recipe follows)
1 lime wedge
Place tortillas on a griddle or in a cast iron pan over high heat until warm and very slightly crispy, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.
Place a 2-ounce scoop of Cotija cheese on the very hot cooking surface. Cook cheese for 30 seconds, until it browns and forms into a patty (kind of like a pancake). Flip it to the other side then cook for another 30 seconds.
Place tortillas, two per taco, on a serving platter and top with grilled Cotija cheese, smashed avocado, a spoonful of the tomatillo salsa and a dash of salt. Serve with lime wedges.
8 tomatillos, husks removed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
20 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely
juice of 1 lime
salt to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the tomatillos in for 30 seconds. Remove and chop coarsely.
Place the tomatillos in a blender with the garlic, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Blend until smooth and chill before serving.