Happy Cinco De Mayo

May 6, 2011 § 8 Comments

If you asked me last week, I had never heard of Cinco De Mayo.

Last night that changed, and I found myself surrounded by black beans, guacamole and cheese dip as my book club sat sipping coronas and discussing the days of prohibition and circus politics (we recognised the holiday  one night early to coincide with our literary meet).

As we drove to the apartment of our hostess, the lovely Morning Sun, I asked my fellow book lover and blogger for a quick history lesson. I can now tell you that FIRST & FOREMOST Cinco De Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day, as many people will try to tell you (rather September 16). After this is gets a little hazy.

The funny thing is, depending on whether you’re celebrating in America or in Mexico, the day will have a significantly different meaning.

In the United States Cinco De Mayo is a party, a fiesta and it proves to me that these Americans are perfectly happy to have a drink in celebration for a day that is not really their own. I used to think that St Patrick’s Day was a big deal in Sydney, that was before I realised the city of Charlotte would manage to extend the celebrations for over nine days, from bar-crawl to float parade! Perhaps I should get something going for Australia Day, next January 26?! Here, Cinco De Mayo is a day to honour Mexican culture and heritage, and to commemorate the cause of Mexican freedom and democracy during the early years of the civil war. Today you should expect to see people sipping margaritas and ordering nachos or huevos rancheros.

In Mexico, on the other hand, it is about remembering the victory of the Mexican Army over French forces in the Battle of Puebla, on May 5th, 1862. The day is marked by noticeably less boozing, but instead a military fly over and stirring re-enactments take place. Unfortunately the battles are not all in the past:

“Like many things in Mexico these days, the celebration of the 149th anniversary of the battle swung quickly toward the current drug war. In remarks before laying a wreath to the fallen, Calderon spoke of Mexico’s new enemies, the criminals who rob, extort, kidnap and murder — the kind of opponents who beat 183 people to death and buried them in mass graves 90 miles south of Brownsville, Tex., last month”

William Booth, Washington Post

I’d love to see this day celebrated in its home country but this year I am in America and that means making delicious cheesy, chilli black beans. I hope that this recipe for black beans would not make a Mexican mother cringe, originating from my head as it has, but what can I say? It goes down well with a glass of sangria and that’s enough for me!

Black Beans with shredded cheese and jalapenos

2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight,

1 large tin crushed tomatoes,

1/2 cup water,

1 cup red wine,

5 cloves garlic, crushed,

1/4 bunch coriander, stalks chopped finely and leaves picked,

2 tbl chilli flakes,

3/4 cup mexican cheese, grated or crumbled (queso blanco, queso fresco or panela),

1/4 cup jalapeno peppers.

Drain and rinse the black beans until the water runs clear and return to large saucepan. Add all the wet ingredients and the garlic and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and stir in coriander stalks and chilli flakes. Continue to simmer for 1 hour for semi-crunchy beans (I like to undercook my beans slightly so they retain some texture and don’t taste like mush!) or 1 and a half hours for soft beans. Remove from heat and stir through cheese and jalapenos. Serve with corn tortillas for wrapping and guacamole for topping.

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