A Cinco de Mayo fiesta
Atlanta chef Eddie Hernandez has confirmed my long-held suspicions about Cinco de Mayo.
Americans have seized the day as an opportunity for excess drinking and tomfoolery, while our Mexican amigos view May 5 as a rather smallish moment in history. On that date in 1862, an outnumbered Mexican army beat back the French at the Battle of Puebla.
“It has never been a big holiday for Mexico,” says Hernandez, executive chef-owner of Taqueria del Sol. “Actually, Nov. 2, which is Day of the Dead, is more celebrated than Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo became a marketing tool for the American market, and it worked out really well. It’s one of the biggest days for Mexican food, margaritas and tequila. The sales go through the roof.”
pre bonded hairNo wonder they call it Drinko de Mayo.
In fact, when I think about recipes for a Cinco de Mayo fiesta, many of the dishes that come to mind would be just as appropriate for Seis de Mayo. (Aka: Hangover Day.)
Chilaquiles, which use leftover tortillas, salsa and sometimes eggs, come to mind. As does the Mexican seafood cocktail known as vuelve a la vida (return to life), in which shrimp, oysters and octopus are marinated in a spicy ketchup sauce with avocado, onion and cilantro. And the classic beer-and-tomato juice tonic known as the Michelada, a kind of poor man’s Bloody Mary.
To get the party started, I turned to Paul Calvert, a partner at the Krog Street Market watering hole Ticonderoga Club.
Calvert is a big fan of mezcal, the smoky tequila cousin that’s made from maguey, a type of agave. His libation, Danger Zone, is a lively beer-tail sweetened with honey and perked up with black pepper. It’s concocted from simple ingredients you are likely to have in your pantry. (Don’t keep mezcal at home? Maybe it’s time you do.)
“The idea behind the drink,” Calvert says, “was to combine a couple of things I like to drink as spring gets into full bloom and summer waits around the corner: mezcal with lime and cold beer. The honey gives the drink more body than just the average simple syrup you might reach for when making a margarita, and the black pepper leaves you with nice tingle on the tongue. This is a great cocktail to pair with salty corn chips and fresh vegetables cooked on the grill. It also scales up really well so you can make a big batch for a party with relative ease.”
Like Micheladas and Shandys (beer and soda pop), I think it would be an excellent morning-after drink.
Hernandez, who is working on a cookbook, shared a terrific chilaquiles recipe that would be a nice main dish for a Cinco brunch or supper. You start by making a “fried salsa” that is nothing more than two ingredients (tomatoes and jalapenos), softened in hot oil and pureed in the blender. (To save time, you can make the salsa the day before.)
remy hair extensionsIf you don’t want to bother frying tortillas for the chilaquiles, Hernandez suggests corn chips, which you can pick up when you make your beer run.
“I thought the Fritos would work great, and guess what? They did,” he says. Just toss a couple of handfuls in a bowl of cracked eggs, onion and jalapeno. Perfecto!
To finish the fiesta, how about a classic Tres Leches Cake with fresh spring strawberries? (“Tres Leches” is so named for the concoction of “three milks” — condensed, evaporated, whole milk or cream — that’s poured over a sponge cake.)
Inspired by a recipe in Mexican doyenne Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s encyclopedic “Mexico: The Cookbook” (Phaidon, $49.95), I baked her rich yellow sponge cake; doused it with the traditional tres leches spiked with a strong pour of brandy; added a layer of strawberries and a pile of whipped cream. (Arronte slices the cake in two, fills it with strawberries and tops it with meringue, which she then browns with a blow torch. Fantastic, no doubt. But too fussy for my fiesta.)
Since Tres Leches Cake needs time to soak up its milk bath, it’s ideal for making the night before and chilling. Don’t want to bother baking from scratch? You can use boxed yellow cake mix and still have a very credible Tres Leches. I’ve had such a cake, and it’s good. The rich milks are what make it.
Americans may be a little misguided in their Cinco de Drinko glee. (Party down, amigo!) But hey, with comidas and bebidas like this, you could make a Cinco-phant out of me.
Eddie Hernandez’s Chilaquiles with Quick Salsa Frita
Susan Puckett, the former AJC food editor who is helping Taqueria del Sol’s Eddie Hernandez develop his cookbook, says the measurements for this recipe are “very loose.” Indeed, it’s just eggs scrambled with chips and home-made salsa. “You can dump in more chips if you like it crunchier,” Puckett says, “and if it seems a little dry, add more of the salsa.” I tried the recipe with tortillas and Fritos and liked it both ways. Putting out bowls of condiments adds a festive touch.
Vegetable oil for frying
4 corn tortillas or 2 big handfuls (about 4 cups) of Fritos
6 large eggs
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 small jalapenos, stemmed and diced (remove some of the seeds and membranes for less heat if you prefer)
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 to 1 1/2 cups Salsa Frita (recipe)
1 cup crumbled cotija or grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces sour cream or Mexican crema (optional)
perruques cheveux naturelsChopped cilantro, chopped avocado, chopped onion, lime wedges, fresh or pickled jalapenos, bottled hot sauce, for garnishing (optional)
Generously cover the bottom of a small skillet with vegetable oil. Heat until very hot. Place 1 tortilla in the pan. Cook until golden on 1 side, about 30 seconds; turn and cook the other side until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels; repeat with the remaining tortillas. When tortillas are cool enough to handle, break into pieces.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the tortilla chips or Fritos, onion, and jalapenos; whisk to combine. In a skillet over medium heat, add the olive or vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the tortilla-egg mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggs are set. Stir in the Salsa Frita. (Start with about 1 cup, and add more as desired.) Cook until just heated through, about 2 minutes.
Top with half of the cheese; cover the pan and remove from heat. Let rest for 3 minutes. Plate and sprinkle each serving with remaining cheese. If desired, dollop each dish with sour cream or Mexican crema, and serve alongside optional garnishes. Serves: 4-6
Per serving, based on 4: 475 calories (percent of calories from fat, 65), 21 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 35 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 334 milligrams cholesterol, 940 milligrams sodium.
For a chunkier salsa, don’t over process.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large tomatoes, diced
2 large or 3 small jalapenos, stemmed, cut lengthwise, and thinly sliced (remove some of the seed and membrane for less heat if you prefer)
Salt to taste
In a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until very hot. Add the tomatoes and jalapenos all at once, taking care to stay back to avoid splatters. Cook and stir until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes. Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 14 calories (percent of calories from fat, 74), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 1 gram fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 6 milligrams sodium.
Paul Calvert’s Danger Zone
Calvert, a Ticonderoga Club partner, makes this mezcal-based beer-tail with ale. If you want to use a Mexican beer, he suggests Modelo Especial. If you are planning a party, you can make a batch in advance; when ready to serve, just top each glass individually with suds.
1 pinch ground black pepper
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoon) freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoon) honey syrup (see instructions below)
1 1/2 ounce (3 tablespoons) top-quality mezcal (Calvert suggests Del Maguey Vida or Fidencio Clasico)
4 ounces pale ale (Calvert suggests Terrapin Recreation or Anchor Liberty)
perruques cheveuxPlace black pepper, lime juice, honey syrup and mezcal in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake well and strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with ale, and serve. Shake. Strain into a tall glass over ice.
To make the honey syrup: Combine two parts good, local wildflower or orange-blossom honey with one part hot water and stir well to combine. Bottle and refrigerate. Will keep cold for three weeks.
Per drink: 161 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 5 milligrams sodium.
Tres Leches Cake with Strawberries
Think of this as Mexican strawberry shortcake.
butter for greasing pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
8 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons milk
1 (14-ounce) can condensed milk
1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk
lace front wigs2/3 cup whole milk (may use whipping cream or half-and-half)
6 tablespoons brandy, divided
1 pound strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced, plus more for (optional) garnish
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a deep, 9-by-13 (or bigger) baking pan generously with butter.
Sift together the flour and baking powder, and set aside.
Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Gently fold in the flour and baking powder, about 1/4 at a time, alternating with the milk.
In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the white into the batter. Pour into greased pan and bake until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
cosplay wigsWhile the cake is baking, mix the condensed milk, the evaporated milk, the whole milk and 4 tablespoons of the brandy in a blender.
Poke holes in the still-warm cake, and drizzle it with the milk mixture. Place sliced strawberries all over the top of the cake.
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream, confectioners sugar and remaining 2 tablespoons brandy until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over the strawberries. Cover the cake with wax paper, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight. Garnish with additional whole or sliced strawberries, if desired. Slice into squares and serve, making sure to drizzle the milk over the cake. Serves: 12
Per serving: 586 calories (percent of calories from fat, 41), 12 grams protein, 72 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 26 grams fat (15 grams saturated), 226 milligrams cholesterol, 252 milligrams sodium.