A FEAST FOR A FIESTA: Quesadillas with all the fixins.
I’ve had a few noteworthy Cinco de Mayo celebrations over the past few years. Since then, I’ve tried to put a focus on the food over anything else.
The primary ingredientes here are flour tortillas and cheese. Use the burrito-size tortillas that come eight to a pack, and the store brand sharp cheddar works just fine here. Shred the cheese, and place on the tortilla. Fold it in half, and bake in the oven until melty.
I like to serve the quesadillas on a platter, surrounded by several options for toppings, salsas, and goodies. An essential element is black beans. Drain the beans so that most of the liquid has been removed. Place in a saucepan with a half a beer (the Budweiser sitting in the far back corner of the fridge is perfectly fine), and then season with cumin, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of olive oil, and one chopped chipotle chile in adobo sauce. These smoked jalapenos have been stored in tomato sauce, and then put in a can. They are a pantry essential! Just make sure to handle them carefully and only use a little bit at a time, tasting as you go. They are powerful! Simmer the beans until they break down and get thick, adding splashes of beer as necessary.
Another essential element is sweet potatoes. The easiest and least involved way to cook these is, funny enough, the way they taste the best. Scrub them clean, and, leaving the skins on, chop into half- to three-quarter-inch chunks. Lay in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toss with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook at 425 degrees until deep brown on both sides.
Sour cream is wonderful by itself, but a quick preparation will yield something otherworldly, and might just be the talk of your Cinco celebration. With a small grater, zest half a lime into a bowl. Add a pinch of salt, pepper, and fresh crushed coriander. (I happened to have a bit of fresh parsley in the fridge, so I chopped a small palmful and added it to the bowl, too.) Add the sour cream, stir, and then watch people flip out over it.
Slice the avocado in half, then use a spoon to scoop the fruit out. Setting it cut side down on a cutting board, cut thin slices, and then fan them out gently on a plate. Top with a squeeze of lime juice and some more of the crushed coriander, if you like. Do the same with the mango.
For an easy salsa, buy a can of Ro-Tel. It’s tomatoes and green chilies together in a can, and is easily found with the rest of the canned tomatoes at the store. Pour off some of the liquid (into the simmering beans, if you like) and put the Ro-Tel in a bowl. Dress it up with some fresh garlic, scallions, and parsley and you’ve saved yourself some stress and money.
Frozen corn was cheap, so why not? Defrost it in the microwave for a few minutes on high. Rub with toasted cumin, salt, and pepper, then cook until browned on high heat in the oven on a cookie sheet, in a pan, or better yet, on the grill.