Family recipes for your fiesta

My day job is being a web developer for the communications team at Best Buy. But at home, I love to cook — especially with the bold and spicy flavors of Mexico. So, when my team asked me to share some recipes from my family’s heritage in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I jumped at the chance.

Everything that has made me who I am I learned from my mother in the kitchen: patience, leadership, love and dedication. I was blessed to be born in to a large Mexican family, one where someone’s job promotion could turn in to an all-night fiesta with enough food to feed two full football teams.

But behind the scenes of these parties is a woman who spends long hours over the stove. My mother doesn’t write down her recipes. They’re all in her head, yet she can replicate them over and over, teaching anyone willing to learn. Her fingertips are burnt from the years of flipping the tortillas on a pan that looks like it’s from the Battle of Puebla.

My mom taught me the ways of the kitchen, but one thing that bothered me was that she and my grandmothers were always the last to eat, or tending to others so much where they would miss parts of the party. That’s why it was important for me to take their amazing recipes and make them easy, so others can enjoy the food — and the celebration.

First, however, in the spirit of passing down the education I received, let’s kick off with a little primer on what Cinco de Mayo is all about — something that can sometimes be lost in an abundance of margaritas, large sombreros and tacos. It’s often misconstrued as the Mexican Fourth of July, but it’s not.

Cinco de Mayo marks the day in 1862 that a smaller, less-equipped Mexican army of 2,000 held off a larger number of French troops at the Battle of Puebla, preserving the region’s independence. America has since evolved the day for a way to celebrate the food and culture of all Mexico.

So, as you celebrate along with this victory for the Mexican people, here are some of my family’s favorites, simplified for anyone to make and enjoy.

Mama’s Salsa 

Serves 10.

Ingredients: 

  • Water to boil (enough to cover the tomato, onion and peppers)
  • 1 large tomato
  • Half of a yellow onion
  • 1 can of tomatoes with chilies
  • 2 serrano peppers
  • Cilantro, salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • In a pot of boiling water add whole tomato, onion and peppers.
  • Let boil until all are soft.
  • Pour boiled tomato, onion and peppers into blender. Add can of tomatoes and chilies, along with cilantro, salt and pepper.
  • Blend until smooth.

Carne Guisada 

Shredded beef with sauce. Serves four or more.

Ingredients:

  • Stew meat (beef)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 2T flour
  • ¼ onion (not diced)
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • 1c water
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • 2T cumin
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ green pepper or whole jalapeno (not diced)
  • Tortillas

Directions:

  • Toss beef with salt, pepper and flour.
  • Add to slow cooker, along with onion, tomato sauce, water, bouillon cube, cumin, garlic and pepper.
  • Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours or high for 4 hours. 
  • Warm tortillas and enjoy taco-style or on a plate with rice and beans.

Mexican Rice

Serves four or more.

Ingredients:

  • 2T vegetable oil
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice (serves four people)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • 1T onion powder
  • 1T garlic powder
  • 1T cumin

Directions:

  • In a saute pan with high sides, add oil and heat to medium.
  • Add rice and toast it so it turns brown in color.
  • Once toasted, add water, just enough to cover the rice.
  • Add tomato sauce, just enough to turn your water orange-red.
  • Add salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and cumin.
  • Stir and taste water to ensure it’s salty and flavorful. Add more spice to taste.
  • Bring water to boil, turn to medium-low and cover.
  • Cook until rice is tender, roughly 20 minutes.

Paloma 

Cocktail. Serves four.

Ingredients:

  • Juice from 1 large lime
  • Juice from 1 grapefruit
  • Chili-lime salt/sugar for dipping rim
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • Grapefruit soda or seltzer
  • Ice

Directions:

  • Rub the rim of your glass with lime.
  • Dip the rim in the chili salt/sugar mixture.
  • In a pitcher, combine juice from lime and grapefruit.
  • Add in ½ cup of tequila.
  • Stir mixture.
  • Fill glasses with ice and add mixture to fill half of glass.
  • Top with your favorite grapefruit soda or seltzer.
  • Add a lime or grapefruit slice for garnish.