Quick Tortilla Soup

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone. We’ve made it to Ocho de Mayo — a date that is arguably more significant to Mexican-American relations than the margarita-fest that May 5th has become. May 8th is the day in 1846 on which the Battle of Palo Alto — the first battle in the Mexican-American War — was fought outside of what is now Brownsville, TX.

The Battle of Palo Alto is a more somber — and potentially more divisive — battle than that of the Mexican army defeating French forces in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. The Mexican-American War that it precipitated still strikes a raw nerve in Mexico and the southwestern United States alike. Indeed, the losses suffered by Mexico following the two-year-long war eventually led the Mexican president to suspend debt payments to other countries for a period of two years, during which time the French, among other countries, sent forces to Mexico to demand that existing debts be paid…leading, eventually, to the Battle of Puebla.

That it took this political turmoil — both in 1846, and in 1862 — to set culinary wheels in motion is somewhat ironic. Mexico ceded over half of its national territory to the United States in the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War, but that territory — land now located in the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California — retained and evolved its Mexican culinary origins. These are the places that gave rise to such dishes at nachos, chimichangas, chili, and the modern burrito — none of which are native to Mexico, but which have evolved in the United Sates from Mexican origins.

If all this is a little much to wrap your head around on a food blog, I suggest pondering it over a bowl of what is, actually, a true Mexican dish, but which has itself evolved once north of the border: Tortilla soup.

Simple ingredients result in a spectacular tortilla soup -- don't forget the avocados

Simple ingredients result in a spectacular tortilla soup — don’t forget the avocados

In addition to being a microcosm of Mexican cooking in a bowl, Tortilla soup is a great dish to put on the menu following Cinco de Mayo because it helps any thrifty chef use ingredients left on hand. It’s easy to prepare (this version, at least), packed with flavor and complexity, and a crowd-pleaser. Definitionally, this may be a “Leftover Soup,” but it’s another one that disguises itself as a “Showstopper Soup.” (See our post on Split Pea Soup for an explanation on what we mean by that!)

The Mexican ingredients in Tortilla Soup come together quickly in this satisfying meal. Keep reading for our recipe and more.

Migas: Tex-Mex Scrambled Eggs and Corn Tortillas

I guess I’m not surprised that the blogosphere has exploded with Cinco de Mayo recipes and party ideas. This is one psudo-holiday that North Americans have embraced with gusto…er, I mean entusiasmo. Devoid of religious trappings or forced familial obligations, Cinco de Mayo has become a day to let loose with friends, indulge in platter after platter of nachos, enchiladas and tacos, and drink a few too many margaritas — be they strawberry, mango, coconut, guava, or some other tropical but none-too-authentic flavor.

But Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States are unlike those in Mexico. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find any real celebrations in Mexico at all. The military defeat of the French army by Mexican troops on May 5th, 1862, in the city of Puebla was indeed historically important to the the Pueblans, but it is not recognized throughout Mexico the way it is north of the border.

I recently listened to an NPR news story that encapsulated my feelings about the holiday. Entitled “Cinco De Mayo: Whose Holiday Is It, Anyway,” the story made the case that Cinco De Mayo celebrations in the United States are really Mexican-American celebrations…a way of recognizing Mexican cultural heritage in a uniquely Mexican-American way. And if Cinco de Mayo is a day to recognize the contributions and influences of the Mexican diaspora on the fabric of American culture, have I got a recipe for you.

Spicy, salty, comforting and crunchy, migas hits the spot at brunch

Spicy, salty, comforting and crunchy, migas hits the spot at brunch…or anytime

Migas are a Tex-Mex dish influenced less by traditional Mexican cooking than by Spanish and Portuguese dishes. In those countries migas are, at their most basic, a mixture of bread and eggs flavored with a variety of savory ingredients. But in the southwestern United States, where the influences of Mexican cooking are most widely felt, migas are a popular breakfast or brunch dish made with leftover corn tortillas, eggs, onions, tomatoes, and a variety of other things that can include bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, hot sauce and cheese.

Curious about migas? Keep reading to learn more and get our recipe for this great breakfast/brunch dish.

Shrimp Tacos With Guacamole And Cucumber-Cilantro Relish

It took the state-side visit of a British expat living in Brazil to reintroduce us to the magic of taco night. And for those of you who may not have followed all that, let me do a little ‘splaining.

Taco night, as I mentioned in a previous chiles rellenos post, was a big hit in my house growing up. I loved the “do it yourself” approach to the meal, choosing toppings from the center of the overloaded table to pile on to corn tortillas that were stacked, steaming, between paper napkins. It was almost a game, seeing who would get the last tortilla. I always hoped there was just one more, hiding in the folds of the toweling…and sometimes, miraculously, there was.

Once I was introduced to more authentic Mexican — which differs from the Mexican-American dishes I knew growing up — taco night took a backseat to more elaborate regional dishes (those chiles relleno being one). And since I was never a fan of fast food Mexican, that was hardly a temptation. But it’s hard to deny the taco.

Don’t deny the taco. Learn how to make shrimp tacos with guacamole and cucumber-cilantro relish here.