In our enthusiasm for all things Mexican, we've made Cinco de Mayo an exuberant north-of-the-border holiday, with parades, festivals, and food.
Often mislabeled Mexican Independence Day, May 5 is in fact the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, the Mexican army's (temporarily) successful stand against the French in 1862 and a rather minor holiday in Mexico today.
Regardless, it's a wonderful time to celebrate our lively Mexican heritage here in the West with a fiesta.
Ruben and Leticia Salinas, owners of Los Caporales Restaurant in Ojai, California, provide the perfect menu, from Leticia's home state of Sonora, for a mixed grill party (parrillada).
Guests fill warm tortillas with grilled meats and chilies, add chop sauce (a fresh salsa that doubles as a salad) and roasted-poblano cream and wrap the bundle like a burrito or fold it taco-style. Pot beans (pinto beans) are the simple side dish, and another classic, pastel tres leches (three-milk cake), makes a rich, sweet ending.
Menu prep logistics
• Up to 3 days ahead: Soak rice for rice milk.
• Up to 2 days ahead: Make marinades for mixed grill.
• Up to 1 day ahead: Marinate meats, grill vegetables for poblano cream, purée rice mixture for horchata, and make cake.
• About 2 hours ahead: Make chop sauce.
• About 40 minutes ahead: If using a charcoal grill, ignite briquets.
• About 30 minutes ahead: If using a gas grill, preheat.
• About 20 minutes ahead: Grill chilies and green onions for mixed grill. Heat beans.
• About 10 minutes ahead: Assemble and grill quesadillas. Finish poblano cream.
• Just before serving: Grill meats and warm tortillas.
• About 5 minutes before dessert: Whip cream; cut and garnish cake.
Spread about ½ cup shredded jack cheese over half of each of 5 or 6 flour tortillas (8 in. wide); fold bare halves over cheese. Grill over a solid bed of hot coals or high heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level for only 2 to 3 seconds), turning once, for 2 minutes total. Cut into wedges.
Heat 6 or 7 cans (15 oz. each) drained pinto beans and 1½ cups water over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until hot; or cook 4 to 5 cups dried pinto beans according to package directions. Add salt to taste.
Warm corn tortillas
Divide 30 to 40 corn tortillas (6 in. wide) into stacks of 10 and wrap each stack in plastic wrap; heat one packet at a time in a microwave oven on full power (100%) until hot and steamy, 30 to 45 seconds. Wrap packets in clean linen towels to serve.