In history, Cinco de Mayo means more than margaritas and all-night parties. On the 5th of May in 1862, the Mexican army savored an unlikely victory over the French legions in the Battle of Puebla. It’s no wonder the Federalistas decided to cap the win with a party, and this May 5 should carry on the tradition.
And what kind of party would you have on Cinco de Mayo if it didn’t include traditional Mexican dishes? Although there is too great a range of flavors to describe in one column, most Americans think spice, chiles, and complex dishes when they think of Mexican food. Consider Chicken Mole which combines long-cooked chicken pieces with a sublime sauce that balances the heat of chile peppers with the succulent accents of cinnamon, anise, raisins and chocolate.
Tamales, tacos, and burritos all depend on corn meal for their wrapping, but the insides of each are what drives the dish. Consider the range of meat—chicken pork, beef, and fish—and onions and cooked vegetables; but it all comes back to the chiles that set the flavor stage.
And what about simple salsa, featuring tomato, garlic, and jalapeños that can set fire to any palate.
The complex flavors and vibrant spice of these dishes push the wine selection toward Pinot Noir for red wine devotees and toward Viognier for those who need a drink and something cold to put out the fire. Try these:
Gloria Ferrer 2006 Pinot Noir (Carneros, $22).
Sequana 2007 Pinot Noir Sarmento Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands, $32).
Merry Edwards 2007 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $36).
Penner Ash 2008 Viognier (Oregon, $28).
Yalumba 2008 Organic Viognier (South Australia, $16).
Oh, and also to be noted? French bread goes well with many Mexican dishes, especially Mole.
Planning your own Cinco de Mayo fiesta? Check out a recipe for fruit guacamole from New York City’s esteemed Mexican temple Toloache; a recipe for black bean salsa, as well as cocktail suggestions and tips for cooking with both Tequila and Mezcal.