A meal fit for Cinco de Mayo celebration
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 3:25 p.m.
Cinco de Mayo does not warrant a big celebration in Mexico, but in the United States, including in Sonoma County, there are little parties, big parties and street celebrations everywhere. For a long time, the occasion seemed to me to be little more than an excuse to drink a lot of Mexican beer, but lately I've come to think differently about the holiday.
If forced to choose, I would probably select Mexican food as my favorite and I especially enjoy it as the weather heats up. There's nothing like chips, salsa and an ice-cold Bohemia beer on a hot night. By early May, we've usually had a heat wave or two and my craving for Mexican fare is rising. Cinco de Mayo celebrations fit right in with those natural inclinations at this time of year.
Served together, today's recipes make a delicious meal, perfect for a dinner party. For a bigger fete, served family style or as a buffet, you'll want to add a few more dishes. For suggestions, visit “Eat This Now,” this column's companion blog, at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com, where you'll also find details about my favorite Mexican beers, my favorite chips and a recipe for one of the best appetizers ever.
I've made this ceviche using Pacific halibut, flounder and Petrale sole when snapper hasn't been available; all work well and give delicious results.
Snapper Ceviche with Avocado and Tortilla Chips
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound snapper (or other mildly-flavored, firm, white-fleshed fish) fillets, cut into 1/3-inch dice
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more as needed
— Kosher salt
1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
¼ cup minced white onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 avocados, cut into very thin lengthwise slices
— Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
— Tortilla chips, preferably La Casa brand
Put the diced fish in a small stainless-steel or glass bowl and cover with the lime juice. Be sure the fish is completely covered; add more lime juice if needed to do so. Stir in a generous half teaspoon of salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and preferably 2 or 3 hours. Thirty minutes before serving, stir in the serrano, onion and cilantro.
Fan the sliced avocado on individual chilled plates and divide the ceviche among them.
Season lightly with salt, add a sprig of cilantro and a handful of chips to each plate and serve immediately.
This is one of my all-time favorite recipes. I found it in a small Mexican cookbook in the 1970s and have been making my own version ever since. Sometimes I serve it with Mexican rice, sometimes with creamy polenta, sometimes with quinoa pilaf and sometimes simply with hot corn tortillas for sopping up the delicious juices.
Drunken Chicken with Olives, Shredded Cabbage and Corn Tortillas
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon chipotle powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
— Black pepper in a mill
8 to 10 chicken thighs, preferably from local pastured chickens, rinsed and patted dry
3 tablespoons olive oil or homemade lard
2 yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 to 3 serranos, sliced into thin rounds
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seed
1½-inch cinnamon stick
3 allspice berries
¾ cup medium dry sherry
4 ounces black olives of choice
12 corn tortillas, handmade or handmade-style, hot
4 cups very thinly sliced green cabbage
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime, cut in wedges
Put the tablespoon of kosher salt, the chipotle powder and the cumin into a small bowl. Add several generous turns of black pepper and mix with a fork.
Set the chicken on a clean work surface, skin sides up. Sprinkle the chipotle mixture over each piece and rub it gently into the skin with your fingers. Turn and repeat on the other side of the chicken.
Pour the olive oil or lard into a heavy ovenproof skillet big enough to hold the chicken in a single layer, and set it over medium heat. Brown the chicken on both sides, remove from the heat and transfer the chicken to a plate.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Return the pan to the heat, add the onions and saute for 10 to 12 minutes, until they are limp and fragrant. Season with salt, add the garlic and serranos and saute 2 minutes. Add the cumin seed, the cinnamon and the allspice berries. Return the chicken to the skillet, add the olives and the sherry and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
Remove the chicken from the oven, use tongs to remove and discard the cinnamon stick and let rest, covered, 5 to 10 minutes.
Divide the cabbage among individual wide soup plates and season it with salt. Top each portion with chicken and its cooking juices, garnish with cilantro and a lime wedge and serve immediately, with hot corn tortillas alongside.
This simple salad makes a beautiful counterpoint to the rich chicken; serve it family style, with the chicken. If you don't have jicama, use 1 bunch of radishes, cleaned and very thinly sliced, instead.
Orange, Onion and Jicama Salad
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 or 3 oranges, preferably Cara Cara, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1 very small red onion, peeled and sliced into very thin half moons
1 medium jicama, peeled and sliced into very thin half moons
1 serrano, seeded and minced
— lack pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
Spread the orange slices over a large plater, scatter the onion over it and top with jicama. Scatter the serrano over everything, season with salt and several turns of black pepper. Sprinkle the cilantro on top and let rest for about 20 minutes before serving.
For the best results, look for local strawberries, the smaller the better.
Strawberry Hibiscus Agua Fresca
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 cups sweet strawberries, stemmed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ounce dried hibiscus (jamaica) flowers
3 cups boiling water
— Juice of 1 to 2 limes
1/3 cup simple syrup, plus more as needed (see Note below)
8 to 10 fresh mint leaves, lightly crushed
— Ice cubes
Put the strawberries into a wide bowl, sprinkle the sugar over them and crush them with a vegetable masher. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.
Put the hibiscus flowers into a tea pot or other heat-proof container and cover with 3 cups of boiling water. Steep for about 10 minutes; strain into a pitcher or other container and chill thoroughly.
Stir the crushed strawberries and their juices into the chilled hibiscus tea, stir in the lime juice and 1/3 cup of simple syrup and taste. If the flavors seem a little flat or too tart, add more simple syrup, a tablespoon at a time, until the proper balance is achieved.
Add the mint leaves and chill for at least 15 minutes.
Fill tall glasses with ice cubes, pour in the agua fresca and serve.
Note: To make simple syrup, put 2 cups of granulated sugar into a small, heavy saucepan and add 1 cup water; do not stir. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer without stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is transparent. Cool, transfer to a jar, cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Simple syrup keeps indefinitely.
Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.
E-mail Jordan at email@example.com.
You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.