Cinco De Mayo: Five Fiesta-Worthy Foods To Make Or Try

elotesIn the United States, Cinco de Mayo (“fifth of May”) is essentially yet another excuse to get hammered. In the Mexican state of Puebla, however, the holiday commemorates the Mexican Army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Cinco de Mayo is also celebrated in other regions of Mexico; as in the States, it’s a day of honoring Mexican pride and heritage. This year, instead of the standard chips and guacamole (and crippling hangover), try some beloved Mexican foods that are well suited to serve a crowd. They’re easily made, or purchased if you live in a community with a sizable Hispanic population. Buen provecho!

1. Flor de Calabaza (squash blossoms): Available now at your local farmers market or specialty produce shop, and a favorite of Mexican home cooks. Try sautéing them and tucking into quesadillas or dipping in batter and frying (stuff them with fresh goat cheese mixed with chopped herbs for a really special treat; click here for the recipe).

2. Elotes: Whether served as whole, grilled ears of corn or kernels-in-a-cup, these mayonnaise, lime, and chile-slathered street eats are worth every ripple of cellulite they produce. True, corn isn’t in season right now; see if your favorite local farm stand, market vendor, or specialty grocer has frozen kernels for sale.

3. Churros: Fried, sugary goodness in phallic form: what’s not to love? Uh, except maybe churros con cajeta (filled with caramelized goat milk).

4. Antojitos: Traditionally found in the fondas, or beer bars of Mexico City, these small, fried or griddled masa dough “cravings (antojos)” or “little whims” are now more commonly associated with street food, and have regional adaptations. The differences in shape and fillings are often subtle: a chalupa (not to be confused with the Taco Bell concoction) is a thin, fried cup with a slight depression for holding meat and/or beans, shredded cabbage, crumbled fresh cheese or crema, and avocado or guacamole, while a huarache is like a slightly thicker tortilla in the shape of a sandal (hence the name). In Oaxaca, regional antojitos such as tlacoyos (like a skinny huarache) and memelas (think round huarache) may be topped with black beans and complex salsas indigenous to the region. In a word, addictive.

5. Michelada: Forget margaritas. This refreshing beverage has hair-of-the-dog built right in, and indeed, it’s a traditional Mexican hangover helper (as is a steaming bowl of menudo). Combine one icy cold Mexican beer (My pick: Pacifico) with fresh-squeezed lime juice, tomato juice or Clamato, a dash of hot sauce and a pinch of kosher or celery salt. The variations are many, but this recipe from Food52 is a winner.

[Photo credit: Flickr user the queen of subtle]

Want more antojitos? Check out this assortment, below:
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Next year’s planning for May: Think ahead

May Day, May 1, Mother’s Day, the 2nd Sunday in May, and Memorial Day, the last Monday in May are the obvious “M” days for May celebrations. Then there’s Cinco de Mayo on May 5, a holiday I missed out on this year. I’ll buy a Dos Equis anyway. That’s not the only celebration opportunity that passed me by.

I have a calendar filled with hallmark days from around the world. Here are some of them that are significant in various parts of the world. It’s interesting to see which events or organizations have staked out a day as being special.

Don’t count on them being on the same date next year, however. Some are lunar which means, they move to match the moon’s cycle. Or some, like Memorial Day and Mother’s Day, are day specific.

  • May 2 and May 9–Both are Buddha related. May 2 was Buddha’s birthday. May 9, Vesak Day which was the biggie. It marks Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment. Next year, meditate or head to a Buddhist temple. When we lived in Singapore, Vesak Day was a vacation day. It’s celebrated in across Asia with each country having it’s own mark. The photo is from the Lotus Lantern Festival in South Korea.
  • May 2–International Astronomy Day. Next spring, remember to look up at the stars. Better yet, head to a planetarium. One of my favorites is the one at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
  • May 8World Red Cross Day– Next year, donate blood.
  • May 12International Nurse’s Day–Next year, give a nurse a hug and some flowers. They make hospital stays bearable. You can also visit the
  • May 13–Tulip Time-Holland. Buy tulips. Give them to a nurse if you forgot Nurse’s Day. Better late than never. Or if your mother is a nurse and you forgot Mother’s Day, here’s a double opportunity to make amends. Or, to keep it simple go to the Tulip Time Festival in Holland Michigan.
  • May 14–Jamestown Day–Visit the living history museum, the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia. Or if you can’t visit, read a book about Jamestown.
  • May 17- Brown vs Board of Education–This isn’t exactly a holiday, but remember to be thankful that school segregation ended. Visit Topeka, Kansas, the centerpiece for this particular desegregation struggle.
  • May 29John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Birthday-Visit Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, unless you did that on Memorial Day.

This year, on Mother’s Day I saw the Broadway national touring company’s production of The Color Purple with my daughter. On Memorial Day, my mom, son and I went to a the Selma Walker Memorial Powwow. Sometime this year, I will donate blood to make amends for missing out on Red Cross Day. I donated last year and found out what my travel history means when it comes to giving.