I don't even know where to start when it comes to Cinco de Mayo. You all know what it is, right...?
Get this: it is NOT Mexico's Independence Day.
I did know that, but I didn't know what it actually is! With all of the excitement those of us North of the Border have for Cinco de Mayo, it seems right to know what we're celebrating (We'll get to why we even do that!).
According to my sources, (Wiki), May 5th is the day Mexico unexpectedly won a battle against the French and those are all the details my gringo mind can hold.
But why do those of us with not a drop of Latino in us, make such a big deal of the day?!?
Three words: best.food.ever!!!
I think we're probably really excited our Mexican friends won that battle and that we can celebrate with them over some chips and salsa.
But oh, the cuisine goes so much further than that!
There are tamales, stuffed with savory meat & chiles; Chilaquiles, a dish of fried tortillas simmerd in a salsa-type sauce; Guacamole, Cotija cheese, Tres Leches cake, and on, and on, and on.
But today, for this Cinco de Mayo, we chose to make sopes and horchata.
My first sope was made by a Mexican lady named Maria, who lived with us for a while when I was a young teen. Come to think of it, she was probably a teen herself. She'd had some tough breaks in life, and my mom let her stay with us while she sorted things out.
I don't remember too much else, but the sopes she made were amazing. A thick, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside corn tortilla-like disc filled with refried beans, shredded meat, cabbage or lettuce, and cheese.
That's the way we ate them, and that piping hot little corn shell with all it's delicious toppings was ingrained in my food-memory from that point on. I see my beloved little sopes on the menu at Mexican restaurants from time to time, but the only place that's ever held a candle to Maria's sopes is the taco bus parked next to a gas station in town.
I think these sopes, made especially with Maria (and you) in mind, are as good as they get. We cooked them on a cast-iron skillet without the need to use oil or lard for frying.
The easiest way to shape their traditional raised edges was to make a disc about 1/4 inch thick, and cook one side, then remove the sope from the pan to shape it's little walls, and then return it to the pan to cook the other side. We also kept the fillings traditional to the way we were introduced to sopes.
Pico de gallo
a heavy sprinkling of Cotija cheese (if you've never had Cotija, you need to).
For my family, who are carnivores to the core, I cooked down some boneless pork ribs (a shoulder roast was too big), and shredded the meat to add to their sopes.
My kids devoured them.
My husband asked what they were- as if maybe he wants to make them for the guys at the fire station.
And as we all ate our sopes, we thought of how much we love Mexico- the people, the food, the beaches, the culture. It might not be our holiday to celebrate, but we're grateful for the freedom to raise a glass of horchata with our friends South of the Border.
2 cups masa harina
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 - 1 cup warm water
1. Place masa and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually add water, stopping to stir (or, the best way is to mix with your hands) after each 1/3 cup addition. Dough should be moist but not sticky.
2. Divide dough into 8 balls and cover with saran to keep it from drying out.
3. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat and while it heats, shape your sopes.
4. Using a tortilla press or rolling pin, press each masa ball into a 1/4" thick round. Place into the skillet and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the bottom is browned. Remove the sopes from the skillet and form a little "boat/bowl" by pressing a 1/4" border around the edges (you'll be forming the boat on the cooked side of the sopes and then putting the uncooked side back into the skillet to brown).
5. Remove to a cooling rack and then load them up with refried beans, pico, cabbage...whatever your heart desires.
Pico de gallo or salsa
Simple slaw: toss together 2-3 cups shredded cabbage, 1/4 cup cilantro, salt and pepper to taste, juice of 1/4 line, 1 teaspoon olive oil
1. Soak the almond meal, rice, cinnamon and dates overnight in 3 cups of water.
2. Process the rice and almond mixture in a blender until thick and creamy.
3. Add the remaining 2 cups of water, lime juice and vanilla. Process until smooth.
4. Pour mixture into a nut bag placed over a large bowl or through a cheesecake lined sieve.
5. Squeeze the liquid out of the nut bag or cheesecloth and pour Horchata into a pitcher.
6. Refrigerate until cold or serve over ice. (We might just like ours with a touch of tequila)