The 5th of May

(top row l to r) In the early 1860’s, Napoleon, III thought it’d be a good idea to own Mexico; The battle of Puebla; President Benito Juárez said to Napoleon, III “not on my watch, dude” or something like that. (middle row) Two depictions of the revered Benito Juárez leading his people through troubled times. His birthday, March 21, is a national holiday. (bottom row l to r) Dancers at the annual Cinco de Mayo Festival in Washington, D.C.; Who doesn’t love some chips and salsa? We have a great recipe below. What can I say, I express my feelings through food. 

 

My Spanish vocabulary is limited to “taco” and “cerveza,” so I took this Cinco de Mayo as an opportunity to learn more about the significance of this holiday. A relatively minor holiday in most of Mexico, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations.  For me, it’s a chance to share a little heritage with my neighbors, enjoy some great food and beverages with my staff and friends, and officially commemorate the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). Here is a little history you can use to impress your friends while passing the salsa…(try mine below).  And thanks to history.com for the info.

  • In 1861, Benito Juárez, a lawyer and member of the indigenous Zapotec tribe, was elected president of Mexico. At the time, the country was in financial ruin after years of internal strife, and the new president was forced to default on debt payments to European governments.
  • In response, France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, demanding repayment. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their forces. France, however, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to carve an empire out of Mexican territory.
  • Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large force of troops and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat. Certain that success would come swiftly, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico.
  • From his new headquarters in the north, Juárez rounded up a ragtag force of 2,000 loyal men—many of them either indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry—and sent them to Puebla.
  • The vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans, led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, fortified the town and prepared for the French assault. On May 5, 1862, Lorencez gathered his army—supported by heavy artillery—before the city of Puebla and led an assault.
  • The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated, they had lost nearly 500 soldiers. Fewer than 100 Mexicans had been killed in the clash.
  • Although not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s success at Puebla on May 5 represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement.
  • In 1867—thanks in part to military support and political pressure from the United States, which was finally in a position to aid its besieged neighbor after the end of the American Civil War—France finally withdrew.
  • The same year, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, who had been installed as emperor of Mexico in 1864 by Napoleon, was captured and executed by Juárez’s forces. Puebla de Los Angeles was renamed for General Zaragoza, who died of typhoid fever months after his historic triumph there.
  • Within Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s unlikely victory occurred, although other parts of the country also take part in the celebration. Traditions include military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla and other festive events. For many Mexicans, however, May 5 is a day like any other: It is not a federal holiday, so offices, banks and stores remain open.
  • In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is widely interpreted as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with substantial Mexican-American populations.
  • In the 1960’s, Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday in part because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans, such as Juárez.
  • Today, revelers mark the occasion with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano. Some of the largest festivals are held in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

Hot + Spicy “Can’t Stop Dippin” Salsa Recipe

  • 2 10 oz. cans diced tomatoes and green chilies
  • 1 12 oz. can whole tomatoes (with Mexican flavors ok)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 or 2 whole jalapeno, quartered & sliced thin with seeds/membrane
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 fresh lime – squeeze out all the juice you can
  • for fun, add one can of black beans and cup of frozen corn

FOOD PROCESSOR: Combine the diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, cilantro, onions, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, salt, sugar and lime juice in a blender or food processor. (This is a very large batch. I recommend using a 12-cup food processor, or you can process the ingredients in batches and then mix everything together in a large mixing bowl.) Pulse until you get the salsa to the consistency you’d like. I do about 10 to 15 pulses. Test seasonings with a tortilla chip and adjust as needed.

HAND METHOD: Pour whole tomatoes and juice into bowl and slice up into small bite sized pieces. Chop cilantro, garlic and onion into small pieces and add with rest of ingredients. Hand mix and set texture to your preference.
Refrigerate the salsa for at least an hour before serving. Check amount of liquid and drain as needed. Serve with medley of white and black chips.
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