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If it's Cinco de Mayo, the cooking should be Mexican

16 Recipes
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Serve tacos, guisados, frijoles and pozole with plenty of condiments.

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On May 5, 1862, a small town in east-central Mexico was attacked as part of Napoleon III’s effort to take over the country. The outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French forces in the Battle of Puebla. Though not a particularly strategic victory, its symbolism bolstered the Mexican resistance, which with American aid, finally eradicated the French in 1867.

Today, Cinco de Mayo, a relatively minor commemorative holiday in Mexico, is embraced in America as a full-on opportunity to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture. For some, that means (often too many) slushy margaritas and Tex-Mex food at the local cantina. For others, it is a good excuse to entertain and cook Mexican favorites.

To keep the preparations fast and simple, grill up some Carne Asada, Steak Fajitas or whatever veggies you have on hand, seasoned with homemade Sazón Spice Mix. Set up a taco bar with lots of condiments: Along with shredded lettuce or cabbage and diced onions, offer a variety of salsas such as a chunky, smoky Salsa de Molcajete, a fiery, nutty Salsa Macha and a vibrant Charred Salsa Verde (all happen to be vegan and could accompany a taco of roasted vegetables.) A good Guacamole is essential, as is crumbled fresh cotija cheese and crema. (If you want to keep it plant-based, try Vegan Queso Fresco and Vegan Chipotle Crema.) To round out the selection, zesty, spicy Pickled Jalapeños and a variety of Verduras Encurtidas add some heat and help the flavors pop while also adding crunch and color.

Perhaps you want to try something a bit more authentically Mexican for a Cinco de Mayo dinner? If mole poblano (Mexico’s national dish) is a bit too labor-intensive, a guisado (a dish or main course), often a one-pot meal, has fewer ingredients and is less time-consuming but packs just as much flavor. Rajas con Crema (Charred Poblano Strips With Cream) and Tinga de Pollo (Chicken in Chipotle-Tomato Sauce) are two examples. (The rajas can be vegetarian if you swap vegetable stock for the chicken stock.) Also well-liked are aromatic Pozole Verde (Green Pozole) and earthy Frijoles Aztecas (Black Beans With Nopalitos). Serve these dishes with lots of condiments to offer contrasting textures and complementary flavors.

Mole poblano

Five kinds of chiles are fried, soaked overnight, then added to a sauce of roasted and ground tomatoes, several kinds of seeds, nuts, plantain, raisins, chocolate and more.
Time4 hours
YieldsServes 10 to 12

Rajas con crema (Charred poblano pepper strips with cream)

Charred poblano strips are simmered in broth and Mexican crema. Monterey Jack cheese is stirred in until it is melted and creamy. Serve it warm with tortillas.
Time40 minutes
YieldsServes 8

Verduras Encurtidas

These pickled vegetables are a little spicy from jalapeños and chiles de arbol.
Time1 hour 30 minutes, plus overnight pickling
YieldsMakes 4 pint jars

Steak fajitas

Citrus and chipotle pepper-marinated skirt steak is grilled and served in tortillas with grilled peppers and onions, cotija cheese and pico de gallo.
Time45 minutes plus marinating time
YieldsServes 4 to 6

Salsa de Molcajete

Charring tomatoes adds smoky depth to this chunky, spicy salsa ground in a molcajete.
Time30 minutes
YieldsMakes 1 1/2 cups

Pozole verde (green pozole)

Pozole is party food, customized with condiments. Lime adds zing, dried oregano an intense herbal aroma. Fresh chiles spice it up. Shredded lettuce gives a cool crunch.
Time3 hours 10 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Pickled Jalapeños

Taqueria-style pickled jalapeños with onion, garlic and carrot are easy to make at home.
Time30 minutes
YieldsMakes 1 pint jar

Tinga de pollo (chicken in chipotle-tomato sauce)

Chile sauce coaxes out the flavor of the chicken. The garlicky, oniony broth is rich and hearty,
Time1 hour 15 minutes
YieldsMakes 12 tostadas

Guacamole

White onion, cilantro, serrano chiles and salt are ground to a paste in a molcajete. Avocado and tomato are then mixed into the paste.
Time10 minutes
YieldsMakes 2 cups

Salsa Macha

Salsa macha combines dried chiles and garlic with olive oil, and this Tacos 1986 recipe includes sesame seeds for a nutty richness and orange juice for brightness.
Time10 minutes
YieldsMakes about 1 ½ cups

Frijoles Aztecas (black beans with nopalitos)

A taste of these black beans with nopalitos reveals a deceptively simple and extraordinarily earthy dish.
Time3 hours 40 minutes
YieldsServes 6 to 8

Sazón Spice Mix

This from-scratch version of sazón takes a minute to mix together.
Time5 minutes
YieldsMakes about 2 1/2 tablespoons

Charred Salsa Verde

Vegan chef Jocelyn Ramirez brings more depth to her salsa verde with the addition of dried shiitake mushroom powder. Charring the tomatillos and jalapeños adds a welcome smokiness.
Time30 minutes
YieldsMakes about 4 cups.

Carne Asada

This tender steak has a nice chew beneath the crackle of its garlicky char and the limey tang of its meaty juices.
Time20 minutes
YieldsServes 4

Vegan Queso Fresco

Much like the dairy original, this cheese has a crumbly texture ideal for sprinkling over vegan chilaquiles or any other dish that calls for queso fresco.
Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsMakes about 1 cup

Vegan Chipotle Crema

Creamy and complex, this crema gets its richness from pureed cashews and is elevated by the addition of a chipotle in adobo. Spoon it all over vegan chilaquiles or any other dish.
Time10 minutes
YieldsMakes about 1 ¼ cups