Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with tacos

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 4, 2013

There are numerous articles in my cooking magazines about Cinco de Mayo parties. I realized I did not really know why Cinco de Mayo was celebrated. It is celebrated on May 5 therefore the cinco. It originated with Mexican-American communities in the American West as a way to commemorate the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War, and today the date is observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride.

In the state of Puebla, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican’s army unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin. It is not to be confused with Mexico Independence Day, which is celebrated on Sept. 16.

In a 1998 study in the Journal of American Culture it was reported that there were more than 120 official U.S. celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, and they could be found in 21 different states. On June 7, 2005, the U.S. Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

I probably will not have a party, but some good Mexican food should be in order. My thoughts always go to a “better taco” so I decided to try some of the taco recipes found in the May issue of The Food Network Magazine. This beef taco recipe is worth doing, so get some taco shells and have your own Cinco de Mayo party!


Beef Barbacoa Tacos

Serves 6

1 cup peppers (I used some sweet peppers and hot)

2 plum tomatoes, quartered

1 small white onion, quartered

8 cloves garlic

Kosher salt

2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-to-2-inch pieces

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

Corn tortillas, warmed, and assorted toppings, such as jalapeños, scallions, radishes, cilantro and cabbage

Heat a large cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and cook for about 10 minutes and transfer them to a plate. Add the tomatoes, onion and garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are charred in spots, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the tomatoes, onion and garlic mixture along with the peppers to a blender and blend with ½ cup water and 1 teaspoon salt; pulse until smooth. Add this back into the skillet.

Add the beef to the skillet and turn to coat in the sauce using tongs. Cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until a crust starts to form on the meat, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and cook one more minute. Meanwhile, puree 2½ cups water, the cilantro and thyme in the blender; add to the skillet along with the bay leaves.

Reduce the heat to low. Cover and gently simmer until the meat is very tender, about two hours, adding up to 1½ cups water if the sauce gets too thick. Remove the bay leaves and season with salt and black pepper. Serve in tortillas with assorted toppings.

Note: To warm tortillas, wrap a stack in a damp paper towel and microwave 30 seconds, or warm them one at a time in a dry skillet.

Some other topping options:

Pickled red onions. To pickle onions: Combine 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1 cup cider vinegar, ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon each coriander seeds, mustard seeds and cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon dried oregano and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt in a small saucepan. Boil two minutes; let cool.

Charred Spring Onions: Trim two bunches spring onions; halve lengthwise, if large. Cook in a large cast-ion skillet over medium high heat until tender and blackened, five to eight minutes. Cut into pieces and sprinkle with lime juice and salt.

Buen Provecho.