Every year, every story about Cinco de Mayo is required to point out that no, this is not Mexico’s Independence Day (that’s September 16).
The reason for the confusion is this minor holiday in Mexico has evolved into a big day to celebrate all things Mexican, and Mexican-American, in the United States.
So you’ll see a lot of ads for tequila and tacos along with stereotypical images of sombreros and mariachis on Cinco de Mayo, but the real party is in the kitchen.
Semantics aside, Cinco de Mayo is a local holiday celebrated in Puebla, Mexico.
According to James Beard-award winner Pati Jinich, Mexico City-born cookbook author and host of the PBS show “Pati’s Mexican Table,” Cinco de Mayo commemorates “a very small Mexican militia [that] won over a very big French army in 1861. The French won right back after a couple of days.”
From policy to PBS
When CNN Travel caught up with Jinich, she was setting up her phone camera in her home in the Washington, DC, area, where she is on lockdown with her family.
She moved to the United States with her husband 20 years ago. She was a diligent student, focused on public policy and got her master’s degree from Georgetown University in Latin American studies.
Her pivot to become a cookbook author and television personality was more natural than it sounds.
“I was obsessed with food. I was also very fired up with all of the preconceptions I kept running into regarding Mexicans, Mexican food, what we look like, what we eat.” So, with the encouragement of her husband, she quit her policy job and enrolled in culinary school.
“I thought this is the perfect way for me to bring people to Mexico and show them what we really are, but it’s also a way for me to explore more about where I come from.”
“I know some people get upset and say Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo is not a big deal in Mexico, but I say, ‘who cares?’ ” Jinich explains. “Everybody is celebrating Cinco, we should hop on that train and let everybody enjoy and get to know a bit more of Mexicans and Mexico.”
As Cinco de Mayo falls on Taco Tuesday this year, Jinich is making tacos for her quarantined brood: Her husband, Daniel, and her three sons, Alan, Samuel (Sami) and Julian (Juju). Jinich’s advice on making perfect tacos is loose, relaxed, improvisational and, just like she is, a whole lot of fun.
Cook whatever beans you have on hand. Use any vegetables you like. Put in onion, tomatoes and garlic if that’s your thing. Throw in any meat or fish if you want to. Just heat up a couple of tortillas in a pan on the stove and you’re sorted.
“You just make a big mess. Every taco is a good taco.” says Jinch.
Now it’s time to get into the kitchen and cook up Pati’s charro beans for a scrumptious Cinco de Mayo or any #tacotuesday.
Cowboy Charro Beans (Frijoles Charros con Tocino y Chorizo)
Makes 6 servings
- 6 oz sliced uncooked bacon, chopped
- 8 oz fresh uncooked Mexican chorizo, casings removed, chopped
- 1/2 cup white onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeño pepper finely chopped, more or less to taste, seeded if desired
- 1/2 lb roma tomatoes, about 2 to 3 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tsp kosher or sea salt, plus more as needed
- 5 cups cooked pinto beans and their cooking liquid, or substitute with black or Peruvian beans
• Cook the bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until it is lightly browned and starting to crisp. Add the chopped chorizo; cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until it starts to brown and crisp. As it cooks, use a wooden spoon or spatula to break it into smaller pieces.
• Add the chopped onion and jalapeño; mix well and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes, letting them soften a bit. Add the tomatoes and mix well; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring, until the tomatoes soften and appear mushy.
• Add the cooked beans and their cooking liquid; mix well and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the beans are moist but not soupy. Add a bit more water if needed. Taste and add more salt if you wish. Serve hot.
Happy CInco, everyone!
“Pati’s Mexican Table” airs on PBS and Amazon Prime