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.
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!)