Happy Cinco de Mayo: A Very American,
Very Delicious Mexican Celebration

May 5th, 2014

cinco2_wide-4300e27762263e9e76e2daf941e9b9a4bd9eb747-s40-c85First, a test: Cinco de Mayo is a) Mexico’s Independence Day; b) the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla; c) an American holiday that celebrates Mexican culture and heritage.

If you said “b” and “c,” then Feliz Sin Carne Lunes.

Today at Meatless Monday, we are celebrating Cinco de Mayo, also known as the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. For those who like their Meatless Mondays with a side of history, here’s the backstory: on May 5, 1862, the outmanned Mexican army defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla. Though the French would capture Mexico City one year later and take control of the country for several years, the Battle of Puebla, and the Cinco de Mayo celebrations that began cropping up almost immediately in Puebla and in American towns, became a celebration of Mexican unity and patriotism.

A good argument can be made that Cinco de Mayo is essentially an American holiday that honors Mexican culture and heritage. From the time of our own Civil War and until the 1980s, Cinco de Mayo was a relatively low key celebration marked primarily in cities with large Mexican-American populations, such as Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago. But in recent decades–especially as food and beverage marketers have increased their Cinco de Mayo budgets–the day has grown exponentially in popularity, including weekend long celebrations in cities such as Denver and Phoenix. All of which is great for us, because here at Meatless Monday, we are marking the day by embracing and sharing Mexico’s rich culinary traditions.

HabanerosIf you think about it, Mexico has been meatless for centuries. The foundation of native Mesoamerican food dating back thousands of years includes corn, beans and a range of chili peppers. These ancient–and meatless–items remain Mexican staples. Corn, for millenia, has remained the basic starch of Mexico. The strong, essential flavors of chili peppers define all Mexican cooking, and can take a epicurean up and down the Scoville scale. With generous helpings of indigenous beans, vegetables and flavors such as tomatoes, squash, avocados, cocoa and vanilla, plus regional foods like bananas, guava, mangoes, pears and pineapple, and you have all the ingredients for a colorful Mexican meal.

Here’s how to celebrate Lunes Sin Carne: first, check out the delicious Portobello Tacos featured on Meatless Monday’s homepage, in addition to three other vegetarian Mexican dishes. From there, a quick internet search turned up delicious options from baked bean quesadillas to Vegetarian enfrijoladas with avocado. Martha Stewart has collected no less than 30 incredible Vegetarian Mexican Dishes. Noelle Carter in the L.A. Times recently posted “Vegetarian Mexican dishes for Meatless Monday.” Over on Pinterest, the “World’s Best Guacamole Recipe” and dozens of other bright, delicious vegetarian Mexican recipes are the Meatless Monday board. Food Network offers up Spaghetti Squash Tostadas. And in Food Arts, March 2014, a good write-up called “Mexico’s Vanguard” discusses the next wave of talented Mexican chefs utilizing local ingredients and many creating vegetable centric menus.IMG_20140414_183603728_HDR 2

By now, there’s only one more thing you’ll need: something to wash it all down.

In the end, Leslie Tellez, posting on NPR, best captures the essence of Cinco de Mayo. “I really view it today as a Mexican-American holiday, even though, yeah, you know, it is tied to beer and margaritas a lot of the time. I do think you could use it as a point of reflection about your own identity as a Mexican-American person. Thinking about contributions Mexican-Americans have made to the US, our food, really reveling in what our culture brings to the table in the US. I think it is a great day to do that.”


Main Photo: Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT/Landov