Celebrate and party on Cinco de Mayo (the celebration of the 1862 Mexican army's victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla) with delicious Mexican fare.
Several inspirations can be found in two recently released Mexican cookbooks.
Los Angeles resident Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee shares recipes for quick and easy dishes. New York chef/restaurateur Roberto Santibanez focuses on techniques and numerous classic Mexican sauces such as moles, pipianes, adobos and salsas -- the building blocks for creating terrific meals -- as well as how to use them in carne asada, tacos, tamales, enchiladas, chilaquiles and more. Many of his recipes can be time-consuming.
"We don't have a set of recipes that we do for Cinco de Mayo," says Santibanez, author of "Truly Mexican." "In Mexico, it's an official day with everyone off, but there's no official celebration. In the U.S., it has become a day for celebration."
Although it might seem a little strange for Lee, a native of South Korea, who moved to this country with her parents at age 7, to write "Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking: More Than 80 Everyday Recipes," (Chronicle Books; $22.95), she loves Mexican food.
"My real education in Mexican cuisine began when my parents bought a Mexican grocery store in the San Fernando Valley during the early
'80s," points out the author who grew up eating Korean food and has written two cookbooks on the topic. Her family lived in the Valley and she helped out at the market after school and in the summers during her high school years.
Unfamiliar with Mexican food, Lee began experimenting with chile peppers, tasting salsas, cleaning spikes off nopalitas and more. As she became more curious, market customers would bring dishes from their kitchens and share recipes.
"And then I started cooking Mexican food at home. I learned secrets of each family's mole, where to get the best chocolates and how to turn out rows and rows of enchiladas without even breaking a sweat," says the self-taught cook.
After graduation from UC San Diego, she lived in San Miguel de Allende for two years immersing herself in the food and flavors.
"People think it takes a long time to make anything Mexican at home, but it doesn't have to," she says. "You can make a salsa in a blender or a food processor. If you have a tortilla press, you can make corn tortillas in 15 minutes (flour can take longer because you have to roll them out by hand to get them thinner)." If you're afraid of spicy chiles, use Anaheim, which are never spicy.
The book is filled with her accessible versions of recipes (made with ingredients found in supermarkets or Mexican grocery stores) collected during her youth and travels over the years. They take 30 minutes or less of active/work time with baking or cooking time additional.
"I don't compromise flavor to get food on the table easily. I love to cook but I don't like to labor."
When it comes to shortcuts, heat tortillas for enchiladas in the oven for five minutes after spraying them with cooking spray, she suggests. It's much faster and more efficient than dipping the tortillas one by one in sauce.
"I like canned chipotles better than dried as they have better flavor and you don't have to reconstitute them." To roast tomatillos and give them extra smoky flavor, remove the paper on the outside, halve them and broil (8 to 10 minutes watching carefully) until the skins are somewhat blistered and blackened. Roast tomatoes the same way. When making salsa, throw them, skins and all, in a blender or food processor.
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