For all you history buffs out there Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the “The Day of the Battle of Puebla” and an opportunity to celebrate the pride and freedom of the Hispanic population. Contrary to popular belief it is not Mexico’s Independence Day which is actually celebrated in September. [Thank you Wikipedia for those nuggets of information.]
For me, Cinco de Mayo means a day to celebrate two of my favorite things, Mexican Food and Margaritas, or for anyone…another excuse to spend Saturday afternoon drinking the day away on your favorite patio.
So for today’s post I thought I’d break down what makes Mexican food so amazing. Let’s get to it.
Flavors: I wouldn’t consider myself a Mexican food connoisseur, but merely an obsessed fan of the flavors that make the popular cuisine a favorite down in the south, particularly Texas. The onions, garlic, spices, peppers…it’s a flavor explosion in every bite! Now when I’m talking about Mexican food I’m referring to Tex-Mex. I’ve had my share of “authentic” Mexican cuisine, but not enough to consider myself any kind of an expert.
Authentic Mexican Food vs. Tex-Mex: It’s been my experience that the most differentiating factor in Tex-Mex is our love for cheddar cheese and sour cream. Rarely do I find oodles of cheesy and creamy goodness in authentic Mexican fare. Another difference is our use of meat and chicken as opposed to seafood. Now I’m not saying you won’t find meat and seafood in authentic dishes, you certainly do, but I’ve found a lot more seafood when I’ve eaten Mexican food outside of Texas. Oh and cactus! I’ve never tried it and don’t ever see it on Dallas menus, but I would love to try the prickly treat.
So getting back to the flavors that make my mouth water at every plate of steaming fajitas or spicy salsa, I have to give credit to the mighty pepper! I’m a heat freak. One of those people that will make themselves sweat and practically miserable just to get that rush of heat. A daredevil of sorts…in a culinary sense. So what are my favs…lets jump ahead shall we.
Peppers: Jalapenos, Serrano Chiles, spicy Habanero’s…I love them all. The more heat packed into that gorgeous colorful flesh the better. When I’m cooking Mexican food at home these are my go to peppers along with my new fav, the delicious and sweet Red Bell Pepper.
Red Bell Pepper – the mildest of the four these lovely peppers omit a beautiful sweet flavor whether cooked or uncooked. Whether you’re roasting and stuffing it or simply julienne it for a salad, this versatile pepper is a kitchen staple all year long.
Jalapenos – this chile will give you a much stronger kick then the mild bell pepper, but it’s punch isn’t harsh enough to burn out even the most sensitive heat seeker. Roast it up, saute it with your fajitas, or just bite into it like a pickle – whenever I need my heat fix this is my go to pepper.
Serrano Chiles – I turn to these thin and long ladies for my spicy fire roasted salsa because they offer a bit more kick then their jalapeno brothers, but not quite the hit as a habanero. If I’m making the salsa for myself then I’ll do a mix of serrano, jalapeno, and habanero…apparently I like my mouth to be set on fire!
Habanero – a quick tip: the smaller the pepper, the hotter it will be. Habanero’s aren’t the spiciest peppers, but they definitely rank high on the Scoville Scale. They’re perfect if you want to add a hit of spice that settles warmly in the back of your throat with every bite. Damn I’m getting hungry!
Spices: And now for my favorite part, the spices. Cumin and Chile Powder are the stand-out spices that complete a tasty Mexican dish. Cumin is such a versatile spice. Another popular spice in Indian cuisine, it provides a warmth and flavor element that is truly unique.
I can’t dismiss the most predominant flavor in Mexican food, cilantro. Again, a very versatile herb found in Mexican and Indian dishes, this earthly beauty brightens up any dish whether it’s swimming in a sea of spicy peppers, oil popping in a fajita dish, or the sinfully lard filled refried bean, you can’t go wrong with Cilantro. Side note: I’ve met a few people that despise the leafy green…I don’t understand you.
Recipes: If you follow Sarah’s Musical Kitchen then you are well aware of my obsession with Mexican food. Here are 5 of my favorite blog recipes to date:
Flautas with Adobo Chile Crema
Taco Packets with Avocado Crema
Grilled Avocado with Black Bean Corn Salsa
Spicy Fire Roasted Salsa
Weight Watchers Healthy Beef and Bean Tacos
Restaurants: Back in 2010 I wrote a post about my Top 10 Mexican Food Restaurants in the DFW area. For the most part my list has stayed true, with a few minor changes. Instead of creating another top 10 here’s what I consider the key to a stellar Mexican food joint!
Chips & Salsa: If a restaurant doesn’t have good chips and salsa I won’t be coming back. My favorite thing about going out to eat Mexican food is indulging on the salty and spicy goodness of fried corn and spicy pureed tomatoes. Mi Cocina still holds the torch for best chips and salsa in my book. The chips are the perfect level of thickness and are always served hot and fresh and the salsa steels the show in my opinion. You can still taste the tomato goodness but feel the fiery punch of the peppers. Mi Cocina gets a bad rap for not being “authentic” enough, but compare this salsa next to anyone else in the DFW area and I think it’s no contest!
Tacos: If you would have told me 5 years ago that the best tacos in town were out of a truck stop/gas station, I would have questioned your cleanliness and mocked your culinary prowess. Okay maybe I wouldn’t have taken it that far…the point is, I’m a LOT more opened minded these days. So after all the buzz around DFW’s “Best Taco Spot” I had to drop in and give it a try.
Greasy, flavorful, and small enough to inhale at least 4 in a setting, Fuel City Tacos undoubtedly are the best “street-style” tacos I’ve had! These little tacos topped with onions and cilantro aren’t fussy, aren’t trying to be the most creative tacos in the city, they just revel in their simplicity and amazing flavor!
Try them, love them….and bring plenty of cash because you’ll definitely go back for seconds!
Fajitas: If you want a combination of chicken, beef, and lobster…yes that’s right, lobster, then you have to try the Cadillac Platter from Uncle Julio’s. It’s a bit pricier then most fajita platters but it feeds two easily and the flavor’s are off the charts. Before you stuff your flour tortillas take a heaping fork of chicken, beef, and lobster then dip it in the warm drawn butter…HEAVEN!
Queso: I love discovering new hole in the wall joints, especially when I discover they serve the best queso in Dallas. Apparently queso dip isn’t very wide spread outside of Texas and Oklahoma so let me break it down for you. It’s creamy white or yellow cheese sauteed with a mix of onions and tomatoes and often served with taco meat, sour cream and guacamole. Holy Frijoles keeps it simple yet I walk away wondering everytime…what the hell do they put in their queso. It’s meaty and flavorful, yet there’s no meat in the cheese and it looks relatively simple. It’s perfection actually, and no words will do it the justice it deserves.
Margarita: This is a hot topic and one I’m sure people will disagree with me on. To me the best Margarita in Dallas is the Mambo Taxi at Taco Diner. There’s a reason there’s a 3 drink limit…they will knock you off your bar stool. The blend of frozen rita and fruity sangria is the perfect thirst quencher in the Texas heat. I’m warning you though, you might think you’re okay and demand another round, but trust me…pace yourself…you’ll thank yourself in the morning.
So Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone. If you’re still with me after my outrageously long post, you rock. I’m heading out to wet my whistle with some sizzling fajitas and tangy margaritas before I go see the amazing Sarah Jaffe at the Granada Theater.
What are you Cinco de Mayo plans? Let me know in the comment field below!