5 Mexican-Inspired Recipes for a Fresh Fiesta

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Saying “the fifth of May” doesn’t sound nearly as festive as “Cinco de Mayo.” The date signifies the defeat of the French Army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. We sometimes confuse this observance with the concept of our own Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo seems to have gathered more momentum in California than in Mexico. The most important day of independence in Mexico is actually celebrated on Sept. 16 to commemorate the Cry of Delores, which resulted in Mexican independence from Spain in 1810.

Regardless, we celebrate together. On Jan. 7, 2005, President George W. Bush deemed Cinco de Mayo a day of celebration in the United States.

Shortly after moving to Tennessee, about 30 years ago, we met a friend of Mexican heritage who came to Tennessee via his native Texas. He was determined to show us how to correctly make an exotic (to us!) food called fajitas. After shopping in every ethnic market, we still could not find the crowning glory, a special herb needed for our pico de gallo. We finally got a handful of cilantro at the kitchen entrance of the only non-fast-food Mexican restaurant in town. Our resulting feast opened our eyes to the wonderful possibilities beyond the bean burrito (not that I am knocking one of the most delicious and affordable meals on earth).

Since that time, there has been a wave of delicious Mexican food across Tennessee. It has brought taco trucks to every pocket of our cities. And we all seem to have a secret guacamole or carnitas recipe. It’s fun to incorporate the traditional flavors with a few native Tennessee offerings.

The salsa verde recipe in this story brings together the expected tomatillos, peppers and onions with some fresh spring greens. It’s a bit lighter and brighter than the pale, thin traditional fare. After researching a few options, I settled on a boiled version. The peppers can be roasted, too, but this method is also delicious and so easy to clean up. While we often use salsa verde as a dip, this staple is typically used as an ingredient in cooking things like enchiladas. Adding it to guacamole brings out a whole new topping/dip that I am calling Guaca Verde. This is surely making purists cringe.

Slaw adds the perfect crunch to a broiled fish taco or carnitas. I added cilantro to make a pretty, creamy green dressing. The flavor is welcome and unique to those in the pro-cilantro camp. We seem to either adore cilantro, or strongly dislike it. If you are in the group that thinks it tastes like soap, you can just leave it out.

For dessert, I concocted a margarita cupcake that combines limes and strawberries. I didn’t want to choose between them. This mashup (quite literally) is a salute to both. The bite of lime and the zip of salt blend well with the sweet berries. May is Strawberry Month. I say this every year to remind myself to get the local sweeties while they are available all over the state.

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Creamy Cilantro Slaw

Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

Creamy Cilantro Slaw

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