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Throw Your Own Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

Get the party started with these tasty recipes and entertainment tips

Cinco de Mayo

Throwing a Cinco de Mayo celebration is easy with fresh ingredients and some rhythmic tunes. — Photo by Tara Donne

First things first: Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican holiday. And contrary to popular belief (at least in the United States), it isn't Mexico's Independence Day, either (that event falls on Sept. 16).

The first Cinco de Mayo celebration was held on May 5, 1862, when the Mexican American community in California celebrated Mexico's victory over the invading French in the Battle of Puebla. Celebrants in Los Angeles viewed this unlikely win as "a symbol of hope" for forces of democracy during the U.S. Civil War (France threatened to ally with the Confederacy; Mexican Americans were overwhelmingly Union sympathizers).

This year marks the 151st  anniversary of that original battle: no better time to cook up some tortillas, and wave a few Mexican and American flags.

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Tacos for a Crowd

Make-your-own tortillas

Homemade tortillas are so easy to make, you'll wonder why you never tried this before. You'll need only two ingredients corn flour (called masa) and water and to invest in a tortilla press ($20 in kitchen stores). For 12 six-inch tortillas, mix about 2 cups masa with 1 1/2 cups water and knead into a firm but springy dough. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour, then break off an approximately 2-inch ball, place it between two sheets of plastic wrap, and flatten in the press. Place on a hot griddle for 1 minute, then flip and heat the other side. Repeat with remaining dough.

Cinco de Mayo

Chicken Adobada is easy to make and an excellent filling for homemade tortillas. — Photo by Tara Donne

Tortilla Fillings

Courtesy of Marcela Valladolid, host of the Food Network show Mexican Made Easy. Each recipe makes enough for six to eight tacos.

Pork or Chicken Adobada

  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 guajillo chiles, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound pork roast or chicken breasts
  • Avocado slices, pineapple slices, and salsa, for garnish
  • 2 limes, quartered

1. To make the adobada (marinade), sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil, then add the chiles and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Place mix in a blender with the broth and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Rub the meat with the adobada. Grill until fully cooked, then slice.

3. Wrap a couple of slices of meat in a tortilla and top with avocado, pineapple, salsa, and a sprinkle of lime juice.

Carne Asada

  • 1 pound flank steak
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 cup beer (lager)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Avocado, salsa, lime juice, and cilantro, for garnish

Marinate the flank steak in the oil, orange, oregano, and beer for 1 hour before cooking. Grill the steak, then cut into strips. Remove from marinade and season with salt and pepper. Wrap a couple of slices in a tortilla, with toppings.

Squash Blossoms

  • 6 squash blossoms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese

Lightly sauté squash blossoms in olive oil. Stuff each tortilla with 2 tablespoons cheese and 1 squash blossom.

Next: Thirst-quenching margaritas, tunes, and fun. »

Cinco de Mayo

With or without alcohol, a margarita is always a good way to kick off a Cinco de Mayo fiesta. — Photo by Tara Donne

Impala Margarita

Combine 2 ounces blanco or silver tequila with 4 ounces fresh lime juice, 2 ounces water, and 2 ounces agave nectar (or simple syrup) in a shaker. Shake vigorously with ice and pour into an unsalted glass. Add a handful of frozen strawberries with a few candied ginger slices, or a handful of blackberries with a sprig of rosemary. Tip: To prevent watered-down drinks, freeze lime juice or limeade to use as ice cubes.

Festive Music

A fine fiesta needs music, but mariachi isn't your only choice. Demi Stevens, owner of the tequila-focused restaurant Ortega 120 in Los Angeles, suggests Latin-fusion music from bands like L.A.-based Ozomatli and New York City's Aventura. Though Aventura broke up last year, it has released six albums in the romantic Dominican bachata style, with an R&B and hip-hop flair.

Cinco de Mayo

Lotería is sure to be a hit will all ages attending your celebration. — Courtesy of Alex Covarrubias

Great Games

For breaks in the dancing, bring out the colorful Mexican bingo game lotería. You can find it for about $5 online at sites like and Stampington & Company.



You may also like: Pancho's original margarita recipe.

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