Friday, April 25, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

You don't have to be from Mexico to enjoy Cinco de Mayo (Remember how many non-Irish folks celebrate St. Patrick's Day). Indeed, it can be a perfect time to roll out some authentic Mexican food flavors.

Most Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. revolve around Tex-Mex foods and Mexican libations. There are margaritas, piñatas, mariachi bands, and maybe a sombrero or two. Brightly colored banners proclaim the coming of this much-misunderstood fifth day in May—but do we really know what we're celebrating?

Many believe, incorrectly, that Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican Independence Day, like our Fourth of July. But Cinco de Mayo is really the celebration of the victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1861—51 years after Mexico's battle for independence began. Puebla, a small town in east-central Mexico, was the setting for this dramatic battle in which a force of 4,500 lightly armed Mexicans defeated 6,000 well-armed and highly trained French soldiers.

Though a popular celebration in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo is more of a regional celebration in and around Puebla, according to Chef Iliana de la Vega, a Latin cuisines specialist at The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio. Chef de la Vega came to the CIA's newest campus in San Antonio from Oaxaca, Mexico, and will spend her first Cinco de Mayo in the U.S. this May.

"I'm excited to see the Cinco de Mayo celebrations here in San Antonio, but this is not as big a deal as our Independence Day celebrations on September 16," she said. "It is certainly a U.S. commercial success but it also highlights Mexican heritage, culture, and food."

Chef de la Vega's recipes for Rajas Poblanos con Crema (poblano pepper strips with cream) and Caldo de Hongos (mushroom soup) use authentic Mexican ingredients. They are simple, traditional Mexican foods that you might not see on your local Tex-Mex restaurant menus.
For the Rajas Poblanos con Crema, Chef de la Vega uses poblano peppers. "Poblanos are mild inexpensive peppers that are easy to stuff, and are available year-round. They are a little spicy, but not too hot. The basic method to use them involves roasting, peeling, de-veining, and seeding them," she said.

"When roasting the poblano chiles, be careful not to overcook them. Just roast enough to peel the skins off. For the Caldo de Hongos, you can use white button mushrooms or a mixture of your favorites."

Like those who fought in the Battle of Puebla, these traditional Mexican recipes, though simple, can rise above the commercial hype and celebrate the true culinary heritage of our neighbors to the south.

Chef Garcia has a video demonstration for Rajas Poblanos con Crema.

Rajas Poblanos con Crema
(Poblano Slices in Creamy Sauce)
Serves 6
6 poblano chiles
1 cup vegetable oil
2 medium white onions, finely sliced
1 cup Crema Mexicana or Crème fraiche*
1/2 cup Queso Fresco (Mexican cheese), cubed**

Make a 1-inch slit on each chile. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Fry the chiles in the oil, turning them until completely blistered. Set aside to cool.

Peel the cooled chiles. Discard the seeds and stems. Slice the chiles.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the chiles and sauté for another 3–5 min, until cooked. Add the cream, salt to taste, and bring the mixture to a boil. Just before serving, add the cheese. As soon as the cheese is warm, serve immediately.
*Heavy cream may be substituted.
**Mild feta cheese may be substituted.
Variation: You can add cooked corn kernels.
Chef's notes: Serve with hot tortillas, over white rice, or with grilled meat, chicken, or fish.

Nutrition information, per 9-ounce serving: 220 calories, 5 grams protein, 16 grams fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 45 milligrams sodium, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.

Caldo de Hongos
(Mushroom Soup Broth)
Serves 6
2 pounds mushrooms, white cap or a mixture of white cap and crimini, cleaned and brushed free of dirt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large white onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 jalapeños chilies, or to taste, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh epazote leaves or cilantro, chopped
6 cups chicken broth

Cut and discard the foot end of each mushroom. Slice each in half lengthwise, and finely slice the halves.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a few seconds. Add the chiles to taste, and add the sliced mushrooms. Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Allow the vegetables to cook and gently sweat for about 10 minutes, or until softened.

Add the broth, and season to taste.


Anonymous said...

It's good of you to write up a little bit about the battle at Puebla. It's a celebration of culture and heritage that Detroit celebrates in a big manner!

And thanks for the recipes!

Anonymous said...

Rajas Poblanos con Crema & Caldo de Hongos sounds yummy!!
Wish you Hot 'N Happening Cinco!
Keep 'em coming...