Why does America celebrate Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo? (PLUS: Mexican Recipes!)

Today is Cinco de Mayo – so Happy Cinco de Mayo! It’s a Mexican holiday that is celebrated in many states in the US. But why?

The day marks the Mexican Army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Around 4,500 Mexican troops managed to overcome well over 6,000 French troops (considered the best in the world at the time) in a decisive and history-changing win. That does not seem to involve the USA at all, does it. Ah, but wait…

Had the French, under the command of Napoleon III, beaten the Mexicans that day they would have gone on to support the US Confederate Army against the Union and the history of America would have been radically different.

That’s a hugely simplified explanation – feel free to visit Wikipedia for the full story – but it does explain why Cinco de Mayo is quite a big deal for a lot of the United States!  

How is Cinco de Mayo celebrated?

Food and drink play a central part to the Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Indeed, it’s as much a celebration of Mexico’s culinary genius as it is a commemoration of that famous victory.

Tacos, nachos and margaritas are the ones we know about, of course, but there’s far more to Mexican cuisine. If you fancy joining in the Cinco de Mayo party or if you just want to try some Mexican delicacies, I’ve found two great recipes for you, one for food, one for drinks. Oh, and of course you can enjoy Mexico’s best-selling soda Jarritos thanks to American Soda too! 

Chicken Mole

Chicken Mole

Photo: Con Poulos

This is a classic Mexican dish that is made truly special by the mole sauce which combines a range of spices with Mexican chocolate to produce something wonderful.

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds), cut into 6 pieces
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 6 dried guajillo chile peppers
  • 4 dried ancho chile peppers
  • 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup whole blanched almonds
  • 1/4 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 2 6 -inch corn tortillas, torn into pieces
  • 1 2 .7-ounce disk Mexican chocolate, broken into pieces
  • Pinch of sugar

Method

  1. Place the chicken and peppercorns in a large pot, cover with water and season with salt to taste.
  2. Simmer gently on a low heat until the chicken is tender – approximately 40 minutes.
  3. Move the chicken to a large plate and keep the cooking liquid.
  4. Toast the sesame seeds on a medium heat until golden, tossing them to keep them turning. Keep two table spoons to one side and put the rest in a blender.
  5. Toast cloves, cinnamon stick, anise and coriander seeds in the same pan until fragrant (3 minutes) and add to the blender.
  6. Remove seeds and stems from the chile peppers and heat four tablespoons of canola oil in the same pan again over a medium heat.
  7. Add the chile peppers and fry for 2 minutes. Put in a bowl and cover with hot water, soaking them for 30 minutes.
  8. Add raisins, almonds, pumpkin seeds and tortilla pieces to the oil and cook for around 2 minutes until browned.
  9. Add to the blender with the oil, soaked chile peppers and blend to make a puree, pouring in 2 to 3 cups of the water you soaked the chile peppers in to make a thick, smooth sauce.
  10. Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a large pot on a medium-high heat, add the chile sauce and fry until thickened (5 to 6 minutes).
  11. Put 4 cups of the retained chicken cooking liquid and simmer until the sauce thickens again (20 minutes). Add the Mexican chocolate and simmer, stirring all the time, until the chocolate melts and the sauce has reduced (20 minutes).
  12. Add the sugar and season with salt. Add the chicken pieces and warm through over a low heat.
  13. Serve with Mexican rice of your choice and garnish with the remaining sesame seeds. 

Sounds and looks utterly delicious – and it is! Now you need something to drink with it. Margaritas will work fine, but why not try this alternative Mexican cocktail based, of COURSE, on tequila?

La Paloma Suprema

La Paloma SupremaThis tequila cocktail uses grapefruit soda but you could likely try it with any from the Jarritos Mexican soda range. Experiment and see which one fits your taste buds best!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 oz good quality tequila
  • 4 oz. Jarritos Grapefruit Soda
  • 1 wedge of lime

Method

  1. Salt the rim of a highball glass and fill with ice
  2. Pour in the tequila
  3. Add the Jarritos grapefruit soda
  4. Garnish with the lime wedge

Refreshing and light next to the Chicken Mole, I’m sure you will agree. I’m not a fan of grapefruit personally, so I think this works just as well and is just as light using Jarritos Lime soda or Jarritos Guava soda.

So there you have it – the reason the US celebrates a Mexican holiday and some cracking ways for you to hold your own Cinco de Mayo celebration!