While many Americans look forward to Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to enjoy a cold marg and tacos, and often mistake the date for Mexico’s Independence Day, which is Sept. 16, theholiday actually celebrates a great victory in the country’s history, when it defeated France at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
The triumph inspired the Mexican people and, six years later, the French were finally driven out of Mexico for good. Today, in the U.S., the holiday more broadly celebrates Mexican culture as a whole.
So, to pay homage to the rich culture of Mexico, we’re cooking up some mouthwatering recipes from Mexican and Mexican American chefs — including, of course, cold margs and tacos.
If you’re not familiar with dragon fruit (also called pitaya), definitely give it a try in this cocktail. It has a flavor that’s reminiscent of kiwi, but what’s truly remarkable about it is its brilliant color. And to take this margarita to the next level, you can rim the glass with salt mixed with crushed dried rose petals.
Let this coconut-lime margarita transport you to the beach: You can taste the salty sea breeze in the rim and munch on toasted sweetened coconut with a sprinkle of lime zest as you sip along a creamy and luscious margarita.
To chef Gabriel Kolofon, his guacamole is more than just a dip — it symbolizes his heritage:
“Once the avocado base of the guacamole is complete, I finish the dish by topping it with fresh cilantro, shredded cotija cheese and homemade pico de gallo to represent the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag,” he says. “The colors presented in the Mexican flag have great meaning. The green color signifies hope and prosperity, the white represents peace and the red symbolizes the blood of Mexican heroes.”
Even guac purists will fall in love with this sweet and spicy variation. The mango is bright, citrusy and fresh — the perfect foil for creamy, rich avocado. Then, when the chile heat kicks in, the flavor fiesta starts. We promise — you’ll want heaping mounds on every chip.
Transform traditional guacamole into dessert with a swirl of passion fruit, fresh mint, sweet coconut and, of course, avocado, blended together with crunchy, refreshing jicama and topped with pomegranate seeds.
This salsa is like a classic salsa verde but with the surprise addition of sweet-tart Granny Smith apples. It has an applesauce-like consistency, which is ideal for entertaining because it can sit out for a while without separating. We like to serve it with tortilla chips, on all types of tacos and over enchiladas.
Birria tacos have exploded in popularity over the last couple of years, and there’s a reason why: It takes a lot of elbow grease. Meat is slow-cooked to tenderness in a chile-based stew, and served up in tacos with the consommé, or broth, on the side for dipping. Every region of Mexico and every family has their own version of birria. This recipe, from sisters Stephanie and Cloud Ramos, includes a family secret that makes it irresistible.
Beer-battered fish tacos get a major flavor upgrade with a homemade creamy slaw and a chipotle, peanut and sesame seed salsa.
The secret to the smokiest, most flavorful guacamole to top these tacos with, according to chef Juan Pablo Loza, is to char your chiles on the grill first.
“This recipe reminds me of my hometown of Tijuana,” said chef Marcela Valladolid about these flanken-cut beef tacos topped with mint and salsa verde. “I grew up eating this dish; it is one of my favorites. It is a great weekday meal for the family.”
The Ramos sisters pack all the flavor into the marinade for these hearty tacos. It’s simple enough to enjoy any night of the week but will always leave you satisfied, like you’ve been treated to a feast.
These Mexican sandwiches or tortas (called Chapata de Verduras al Cilantro con Queso Fresco) are easy to make and great for a Cinco de Mayo gathering or any get together. As a plus, they can be made ahead of time.
When you want an all-in-one-pot dish, this stew with hearty potatoes and steak has a depth of flavor that develops with guajillo chiles, husked tomatillos and garlic cloves.
Sopa seca translates to “dry soup” in English, but it’s not exactly a soup — it’s more like a moist pasta casserole that’s traditionally made with thin noodles, rice or even thin tortilla strips — and it’s one of the most iconic dishes in Mexico.
It’s uncommon to see most types of seafood served with mole, according to chef Aarón Sánchez, but this dish will change your mind. The real beauty here is that salmon, with its richness and higher fat content, stands up well to this strong, flavorful sauce.
Soft, tender and delicate, this upside down cake with a tropical spin is perfect with a nice cup of tea or a cappuccino after a delicious meal (or anytime of day, really).
Elevate plain chocolate brownies with a hint of hot, smoky chipotle powder and dash of cinnamon. It’s like Mexican hot chocolate you can slice through with a fork.
Conclude your celebration with this incredible cheesecake that perfectly balances sweet, slightly savory and creamy in every bite. Topped with pumpkin-brown sugar brittle, it’s the sweetest way to salute the Mexican holiday.
Erica Chayes Wida
Erica Chayes Wida is an award-winning journalist, food writer and recipe editor who helmed a local newspaper before joining TODAY’s freelance team. A mother of two, she loves singing, collecting old vinyl and, of course, cooking. Erica is forever on a worldwide quest to find the best ham and cheese croissant and brainstorms best over a sauce pot of bubbling pasta sauce. Her work has been featured on BBC Travel, Saveur, Martha Stewart Living and PopSugar. Follow along on Instagram.