Cinco de Mayo: a celebration of Mexico

April 30, 2014 

Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of all things Mexican, and the influence our nation's neighbor has had on U.S. culture.

One of the most astonishing aspects of that relationship has been our open embrace of Mexico's culinary traditions.

Now taquerías can be found in most U.S. cities, and even the average Joe doesn't think twice about preparing a Mexican-influenced lunch at home. Tacos anyone?

The recipes below are in no way authentic Mexican cuisine, but are only influenced by it. Although presented separately, the best way to enjoy them is by combining them into one dish, a taco or burrito perhaps.

If that doesn't ring your bell, serve all three as a platter.

BLACK BEANS

Biloxi, Miss., artist and gourmand, Lyle Bonge, once said the best recipe for black beans involved more garlic and ham than most people could comprehend, and this recipe is true to Lyle's suggestion. Make sure to take your time when making it. The long, slow cooking will result in a savory and complex dish that is almost stew like. It is great when eaten separately as a main course, especially if topped with raw onions, but it is also a killer addition to a taco made with the roasted pork and coleslaw recipes included here.

It's OK to use canned black beans, just make sure to wash off all the salty goop. If you want to use dried beans follow the recipe below, but add all of the beans when you add the stock and cook for at least 1 hour at a slow simmer.

2 cups cooked black beans

1 cup chopped red onions

1 chopped red or green bell pepper

1/2 cup cubed fresh pumpkin and/or sweet potato

8-10 cloves chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped smoked ham (or 1 cup ham and no sausage)

1/2 cup sliced smoked sausage

2-3 cups chicken stock (homemade is always best)

Freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper flakes

1-2 pinches cumin

1 bunch cilantro

Sauté the ham and sausage in a little oil until they start to take on some color. Add the red onions and bell pepper and cook for at least 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Remember to season as you go. Add a 1/2 cup of beans and the pumpkin and the stock. Simmer slowly for 45 minutes. Taste and re-season as necessary. Add the rest of the beans and garnish with the cilantro.

GARLIC ROASTED PORK

1 pork tender loin or pork shoulder roast

10 cloves of garlic

Fresh ground black pepper

Olive oil to coat

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rub several tablespoons of oil over the pork to coat completely. Using a sharp knife, pierce the pork all over, perhaps a dozen or more times, and fill each with a clove or half a clove of garlic. Liberally season with the black pepper and Tony's. Place on a roasting tray and roast for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 250 degrees, tent with a sheet of aluminum foil and roast until the internal temp is 170 degrees, depending on the size of the roast, 2-5 hours. It should be fork tender when done. Remove and let rest before carving. If you are going to serve this as a whole roast, make sure you take it out of the oven just 5 or 10 minutes before serving. It is at its very best when just removed.

SPICY COLESLAW

1 package coleslaw mix or 1 whole cabbage and 2-3 whole carrots

1/4 cup of sugar

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 cup best quality mayonnaise

1 diced jalapeno pepper

Red pepper flakes as needed

Freshly ground black pepper as needed

If you are making your own slaw mix, chop the cabbage and grate the carrots until you have the mix you like. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, mayonnaise, and vinegar and mix well. Toss in the coleslaw mix and the jalapeno and mix again. Season with the black pepper and red pepper flakes, taste and re-season as necessary. This slaw needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour, and over night is best. Be sure to toss well before serving.

COMBINING AND SERVING

Black beans

Roasted garlic pork

Coleslaw

Fresh yellow corn tortillas or soft flour tortillas

Hot sauce (optional)

Make sure the black beans and pork are hot and the slaw is cool, the contrast in temperatures is important. Using the fresh yellow tortillas is more authentic and also is a healthier option. Pull the pork, or if you have used the pork loin slice it thinly. Heat the yellow corn tortillas in a bit of oil until heated through. Add a generous portion of pork to each tortilla, top with black beans and then slaw.

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