There should be more to your Cinco de Mayo than Corona and Doritos. 9 easy steps to celebrating Mexican independence in muy auténtico style
A Better Beer
I lived in Mexico for a summer back in college, and while I was there, I had two complaints about the beer: 1) In the equatorial heat, it turned to carbonated bathwater in minutes; and, 2) I could never seem to get enough lime juice down the narrow bottleneck. Then one fateful happy hour, I watched a bartender fill a glass with ice and the juice of an entire lime before he cracked a beer to top it off. Brilliant, I thought. Problem solved. And then he added salt. And Tabasco. And, finally, a few dashes from a bottle that turned out to be Worcestershire sauce. What the hell was going on here?
The bartender, amused by my ignorance, explained in very slow, deliberate Spanish that he was making something called a Michelada. In the throes of a when-in-Rome moment, I ordered one. The ice and lime do what you'd expect them to, but the hot sauce and the Worcester add a spice and depth of flavor of the sort you won't find in your typical cerveza. The salt adds…salt, which keeps you coming back for more. Click through for an unimpeachable recipe.
Makes 1 cocktail.
12 oz bottle Negra Modelo
Juice of 1 large lime
Dash to taste of Worcestershire, hot sauce, & soy sauce
Salt the rim of a large tall glass with the coarse salt. Fill the glass with ice and then add the lime juice and Worcestershire, hot sauce, and soy (as desired).
Top with beer—serve extra beer on the side. Garnish with jalapeño, cucumber, or both.
Photo: Courtesy Negra Modelo
Don't Import Your Guacamole
You should be making guacamole at home because it's incredibly satisfying and mind-bendingly easy; and because open avocado really doesn't travel well. To find the perfect recipe, we went straight to the master of disarmingly simple, fresh cuisine.
By Wolfgang Puck
3 medium, fully ripe avocados
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup freshly chopped cilantro
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tablespoon roasted garlic
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1. Halve one avocado, remove pit, and scoop flesh into medium bowl. Repeat with remaining avocados. Pour lime juice over avocado flesh.
2. Using a fork or potato masher, mash lightly until mixture is still a little chunky. Stir in cilantro, shallot, roasted garlic, jalapeño, and salt.
3. Serve with tortilla chips. (Guacamole can be made ahead and covered with plastic wrap and kept refrigerated for up to 8 hours. Return to room temperature before serving.)
Note: Makes about 2 cups, serves 4 to 6
Photo: Getty Images
Dear Gringos, ¡Bebemos Tequila!
Despite the proliferation of artisanal agave spirits, we still view tequila through a pretty narrow lens here in the States. Sure, there are cocktail bars that serve it with fresh-squeezed juices and assorted bitters over hand-cracked ice, but more often than not the word "tequila" is followed closely by the word "shots."
In Mexico—outside the shirtless, Corona-soaked culture of Spring Break—tequila is a part of daily life, something you'd be more likely to sip before dinner than shoot in a bar. There's a woman at the forefront of the movement to bring tequila to our daily lives in the U.S., and her name is Bertha Gonzalez. She's the co-founder and CEO of Casa Dragones Tequila, and a Maestro Tequilero, the highest distinction in the industry. And she's adamant that we start thinking of agave juice as something besides party fuel. "In Mexico," Gonzalez says, "I drink tequila with my grandmother."
It helps that Casa Dragones, her 100% blue agave sipping tequila, is as clean and smooth as they come, with the kind of everlasting finish you'd expect from a carefully cellared Burgundy. You take a sip, get caught up in conversation, and realize minutes later that you can still taste its notes of vanilla, pear, and roasted agave. The only possible improvement is to accompany each sip of Casa Dragones with a sip from a separate glass of sangrita—an acidic, vegetal mix of tomato, citrus, and cilantro which is engineered as a compliment to the tequila. Any restaurant worth its salt in Mexico has a house sangrita recipe; the same goes for families who take cooking seriously, which is why every living female relative of Bertha Gonazlez had a hand in Casa Dragones' proprietary sangrita. Yes, it looks like you're double-fisting, but the sip-sip ritual lends a nice rhythm to your drinking, and turns tequila into a tipple you could bring home to your grandmother.
Blood of the Dragon Sangrita
By Tequila Casa Dragones
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup orange juice, preferably Blood orange juice
2 cups tomato juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped Jalapeño or Serrano Chiles
1 tablespoon finely chopped Vidalia onions
3 stalks of cilantro finely chopped (leaves only)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a pitcher. Refrigerate and serve after an hour of chilling.
Tacos Made Simple
Yes, you could braise pork wrapped in banana leaves and offer a plethora of toppings, but tacos shouldn't be the main event. These delicious Tacos de Hongos, from a recipe by The Taco Truck of Jersey City, are simple, delicious, and vegetarian-friendly. And they're also—as an experienced home cook pointed out—cheap and easy enough to make when you're drunk.
By Chef Roberto Santibañez
Serves 4 (makes approximately 8 large tacos)
½ white onion (3.5oz.), finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 serrano peppers, finely chopped
1 lb mixed mushrooms (shitake, button, cremini, chanterelles)
¼ cup olive oil
1 oz butter
12 epazote leaves, chopped
Cream to drizzle
Crumbled queso freso to sprinkle
Pickled jalapeños or roasted tomatillo chipotle salsa
Heat olive oil in large sauté pan at medium high heat. Drop the onions and Serranos into hot pan and let cook for 1 or 2 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds more; start adding the harder mushrooms first (do not lower the heat), followed by the softer ones. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes and add butter and chopped epazote. Serve warm with fresh corn tortillas to make tacos, using optional toppings as desired.
Photo: Courtesy of The Taco Truck
The homemade margarita seems like a big production, when in fact it's one of the simplest and most satisfying cocktails you can make. You don't need to break out your blender, buy new glasses, or dig up the flavored margarita salt someone gave you as a housewarming gift. Because the ingredients for a perfect margarita can all be found at your local liquor store (provided they sell limes), and the cactus-shaped glassware is best left to Chevys Fresh Mex.
Another thing to keep out of your home is cheap tequila. While our friends over at The New York Times have disproved that "never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink" horseshit, you should never mix a tequila that you wouldn't sip straight. We like the Reposado from Cabo Wabo, which is made from 100% blue agave, aged in oak, and full of peppery and herbal notes which go nicely with that bracing hit of citrus you get from fresh lime juice. Cabo Wabo is easy to find, and the brand was established by ex-Van Halen vocalist Sammy Hagar—a man deeply committed to tequila R&D. This Cinco de Mayo, stick to a recipe you can easily execute after drink number three.
The Classic Margarita
1½ oz Cabo Wabo Reposado Tequila
½ oz Triple Sec
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
Shake ingredients and serve over ice in any glass you damn well please. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Photo: Getty Images Creative
¡Mex on the Beach!
Adam Rapoport on a delicious Mexican breakfast
I don't eat much for breakfast during the week. Toast, coffee, office. Vacation, though, is a different story. I spent last week at a beach house in Mexico with another family, just north of Tulum. And when I wasn't waking up to a pair of wailing 2-year-olds, I made a point of waking up to one of these. I guess I'd call it a breakfast taco: tender scrambled eggs, melted Manchego, freshly chopped pico de gallo, and ripe avocado on a grilled tortilla.
What makes these so good is that each element stands up on its own—which is rarely the case with "breakfast burritos." Most folks throw some tomatoes, onions, and green peppers in a pan with a bunch of eggs, and they end up with a watery, curdy mess.
Anyway, it's easy, and it's delicious—whether you're on a beach in Mexico or stuck in a cramped New York City apartment with a tantrum-throwing 2-year-old.
1 8-inch tortilla
Salt and pepper
Manchego, Jack, or Cheddar cheese, shredded
Pico de gallo
1 ripe avocado
1. In a frying pan over medium heat, melt a pat of butter. Toss in the tortilla and lightly brown on both sides. Remove to a plate.
2. Add some more butter, crack an egg in the pan, and split the yolk with a rubber spatula and mush it about. Season with salt and pepper and add some shredded cheese. Mush it about some more. Don't overcook the egg. You want it tender and creamy.
3. Transfer the egg to the tortilla and top with pico de gallo and some slices of avocado. A squirt of lime juice doesn't hurt.
4. Make another for your girl, and resist the urge to open a beer.
The Perfect Pico
By Adam Rapoport
The only component of the breakfast taco that takes the slightest bit of thought is the pico de gallo, and that's something you can pick up from any good cook at a fish-taco shack in Mexico. It's nothing more than tomato, onion, cilantro, lime juice, chili, and salt. And black pepper. Juan, the gentleman running the shack at the end of my beach, pointed that out to me. The chili adds heat, but the black pepper adds kick. Not sure why I hadn't thought of it before.
Pico de Gallo
Makes about 2 cups
4 plum tomatoes
¼ jalapeño or serrano chili
¼ to ½ onion, chopped
Fresh cilantro, minced
Salt and pepper
The ratio of chopped tomatoes to onions is up to you, but generally 2 or 3 to 1 is a good rule of thumb. As for the chilies, go easy at first. You can always add more. Finally, with a dish this simple, quality ingredients are key. The riper the tomato, the sweeter the onion, the fresher the cilantro, the better the salsa.
1. Quarter the tomatoes lengthwise; then, with either your hands or a knife, remove the core and seeds. Lay the pieces flat on a cutting board, slice into strips, and then cut across to make little cubes.*
2. Slice the chili lengthwise. Remove core and seeds and mince ¼ of it.
3. In a bowl, combine tomatoes, onions, chili, and a few generous pinches of cilantro. Douse with some squeezes of fresh lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
4. Set aside the pico de gallo and make your tacos.
* If you want to elevate your pico de gallo and get all food-nerdy, do like my pal Ted Lee. After he cores the tomatoes, he scoops all the seeds and gelatinous stuff into a sieve and strains the liquid. "The gelatinous stuff-that's where all the flavor is," says Lee, whose new book, Simple Fresh Southern, written with his brother Matt Lee, is out now. He then adds the clear tomato water to the salsa to enhance the tomato flavor.
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