Prepare Mexican inspired dishes for celebrating Cinco de Mayo

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Photo by Ann Cipperly

By Ann Cipperly

Friday, May 5, marks the anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, when the Mexican-American community in California celebrated Mexico’s win over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. This year join in the celebration by inviting family and friends for a fiesta of Mexican inspired dishes.

Most Mexican style recipes can be prepared ahead and work well for a buffet. Bring out your brightest colored tablecloths, napkins and serving dishes for the party. Use warm red and green tones reminiscent of the fiery chilies of spicy Mexican and southwestern cuisine.

Assemble a party menu from favorite recipes of several Opelika families.

Becky Brown grew up in Opelika and began in middle school helping her mother, Jeannie Johnson, prepare Mexican dishes. Her mother was well known for her Mexican cuisine. Becky prepares many of her mother’s recipes and has some of her own.

When preparing Mexican dishes, Becky often serves John Wayne Casserole as a side, a favorite recipe from her mother. The recipe is similar to a cheese soufflé enhanced with green chilies.

She serves the cheese casserole with fajitas, Mexican rice or corn salad and Black Bean Dip, one of her aunt’s recipes.  Becky’s husband Bill grills the chicken breast or flank steak for fajitas.

To assemble the fajitas, Becky slices grilled chicken breasts to serve with sautéed onions and peppers seasoned with a small amount of reserved marinade. Everyone makes their own fajitas with tortillas, grated cheese, sour cream, salsa and guacamole.

When Pat Fox has a houseful of family visiting, she will often make her Mexican Casserole with vibrant with rows of tomatoes, lettuce, green onions, olives and grated cheese. Pat serves the casserole with corn sticks and a fruit salad. Dessert is generally a chilled pie with a light filling.

Carol Pridgen also enjoys cooking for her family and makes Chicken Enchiladas with White Sauce that is easy to prepare a day ahead. The enchilada recipe called for the chicken filling to be rolled in tortillas. She found it is easier to serve and serves more if she breaks the tortillas into strips. She assembles this a day ahead or freezes it.

Mexican dishes are a favorite at our house, as well. We tried many Mexican foods when our daughter lived in Albuquerque, N.M. We especially enjoyed trips to Santa Fe, which is an interesting place to visit with art and history.

It seemed every dish in Albuquerque or Santa Fe included chili peppers even in scrambled eggs. Our daughter would bring us bags of chocolate-coated pecans that looked so yummy until we bit into them and discovered they were almost too hot to eat.

A favorite Mexican dish over the years has been Tortilla Soup embellished with black beans and corn, topped with crispy corn tortilla strips.

Start planning a Cinco de Mayo party this week and have the entire menu prepared ahead, so you can enjoy the party too.

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at recipes@cipperly.com.

Recipes:

Easy Mexican Dip
Sally Sewell
1 can refried beans
1 cup sour cream
8 oz. picante sauce
2 chopped tomatoes
Shredded cheddar cheese
2 green onions, chopped
4 ½ oz. can black olives, sliced
Spread beans in a serving dish. Layer the remaining ingredients and top with olives. Serve with corn chips.

Chicken or Steak Fajitas
Becky Brown
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 1 flank steak, scored
Peppers and onions
Tortillas
Assorted toppings: sautéed peppers and onions, grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa
Marinade:
1/2 cup oil
1 can Campbell’s condensed beef broth
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. garlic pepper
Mix marinade ingredients together, reserving ¼ cup for sautéing onions and peppers. Pour remaining marinade over chicken breasts or steak.  Marinate overnight or at least 2 hours. Cook on grill. Slice into strips.
Serve with warm tortillas, sautéed onions and peppers, grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa.

Chicken Enchiladas with White Sauce
Carol Pridgen
Instead of placing the chicken filling in tortillas, Carol found it is easier to serve if she breaks the tortillas into strips.
2-3 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
3 oz. can mild chopped green chilies
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 pint sour cream
1/2 lb. cheddar cheese, grated
1 pkg. flour tortillas, sliced in strips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 by 13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place layer of tortillas on bottom of pan.
Toss together chicken, Monterey Jack cheese and chilies.
Then add soup and sour cream. Spread layer of chicken mixture over tortillas. Top with layer of cheddar cheese. Finish with layer of tortillas and sprinkle top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes.
Can prepare a day ahead and bake or freeze.

Salsa
Sara Raley
28 oz. can tomatoes, drained
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 bunch green onions
Chop above ingredients together in a blender.
2 cans chopped black olives
2 cans chopped green chilies
3 tsp. garlic salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Serve with tortilla chips. This makes a large amount of salsa and will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.

Pico de Gallo
Paula Harris
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded
3 tomatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1/2 large onion, cut in wedges
Garlic salt to taste
Lemon or lime juice to taste
Place all ingredients in food processor. Chop to desired consistency (it should be lightly chunky). Serve with tacos, burritos or chips.

Margarita Cheesecake
Pam Hope
For crust:
4 oz. salted pretzels
1/3 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for baking pan
Filling:
3 (8-oz. pkg. each) cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
1 Tbsp. tequila
1 Tbsp. grated lime zest
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in center. Butter 9 ½ inch spring-form pan; set aside. In food processor, pulse pretzels to fine crumbs. Add sugar and butter; process until combined.
Press evenly into bottom and slightly up sides of pan. Place on a baking sheet. Bake until light golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Reduce oven to 325. With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sour cream, sugar, Grand Marnier, tequila and lime zest; beat until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
Pour filling into cooled crust. Line outside of pan with aluminum foil to prevent water from seeping in. Place in a roasting pan. Pour hot water to come halfway up sides of spring-form pan.
Bake about 1 hour or until set and slightly firm to the touch.  Remove from water bath; let cool on wire rack. Refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours. Run a hot knife around edge of pan to release.

Avocado-Feta Salsa
Jeannie Johnson
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado, halved, seeded, peeled and chopped
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. snipped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. snipped fresh oregano
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. red or white wine vinegar
4 oz. feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
Pita chips or tortilla chips
In a medium bowl combine tomatoes, avocado, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, oil and vinegar.  Stir gently to mix.  Gently stir in feta cheese.  Cover and chill for 2 hours or up to 6 hours.  Serve salsa with pita or tortilla chips.

Mexican Corn Dip
Lynn Patterson
8 oz. pkg. Philadelphia Brand grated pepper jack cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 cup Mexican corn, drained well
Combine all ingredients. Place in an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 until hot, about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with Fritos or Wheat Thins.

Mexican Casserole
Pat Fox
2 lbs. ground beef
2 (14.5-oz.) cans Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, undrained
1/2 to 1 cup tomato sauce
10 to 12 flour tortillas
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese with peppers
1 egg
Topping:
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 large fresh tomato, chopped
10 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup black olives, sliced
Sour cream, optional
Brown ground beef and drain well.  Blend tomatoes until pureed or well chopped.  Add to ground beef and cook until mixture is thickened.  Spray sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Cover sides and bottom of dish with tortillas.  Spread mixture over tortillas.  Place layer of tortillas over top of beef mixture and set aside.
Combine cottage cheese, Monterey Jack cheese and egg.  Pour over tortillas.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until top looks puffed or set and lightly browned.  Remove from oven and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.
Sprinkle rows of cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, green onions and black olives diagonally across casserole.  Place casserole on a platter lined with salad greens.
The casserole can be prepared earlier in the day and refrigerated for use later.

Guacamole
4 ripe Haas avocados 
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon) 
8 dashes hot pepper sauce 
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion) 
1 large garlic clove, minced 
1 tsp. kosher salt 
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 
1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced
Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. Add lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.

John Wayne Casserole
Becky Brown
2¼ oz. can chopped green chilies
1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1 lb. Cheddar cheese, grated
4 egg whites
4 egg yolks
1 large can evaporated milk
1 Tbsp. flour
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
Combine grated cheese with chilies.  Pour into greased 2-quart casserole.  Beat egg whites until stiff.  Combine egg yolks, milk, flour, salt and pepper.  Fold in egg whites. Pour this mixture on top of cheese, gently moving it into bottom mixture.
Bake 30 minutes in 350 degree oven.  Remove from oven. Place sliced tomatoes on top and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serves 8.

Black Bean Dip
Becky Brown
1 can black beans, drained
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
Juice of ½ fresh lime
½ Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
8 oz. jar Pace picante salsa
Garlic salt to taste
Mix ingredients together and serve with tortilla chips.

Tortilla Soup with Crispy Tortilla Strips
Two 14 1/2 oz. cans chicken broth
14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. chili powder or to taste
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups chopped cooked chicken, optional
3 Tbsp. half and half or heavy cream, optional
Toppings:
Green onions, chopped
Crispy Tortilla Strips
Combine ingredients except cream and toppings. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 to 30 minutes.  Stir in cream. Serve with green onions and tortilla strips.
Crispy Tortilla Strips
Cut corn tortillas into strips. Place on baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt. Bake at 350 degrees eight minutes or until crisp.

Layered Black Bean Salad with Avocado Dressing
1 head iceberg lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup sliced black olives, optional
1/2 cup sliced or chopped red onions or use regular onions
1 cup or more shredded cheddar cheese
1 can black beans, drained
Dressing:
1 cup or more freshly made guacamole or purchased frozen
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. chili powder or to taste
Coarsely broken tortilla chips or Fritos
Spread two-thirds of the lettuce into a glass bowl. Add a layer of tomatoes and olives, then add remaining lettuce. Cover with onion, cheese and beans.
Make dressing. Combine dressing ingredients; spread over salad. Chill up to 24 hours. Just before serving, cover top with broken chips.

Beef and Bean Tacos
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp. oil
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
15 oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz. tomato sauce
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup salsa
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Flour tortillas or taco shells
Assorted toppings: chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream
Cook beef in skillet until done; drain and set aside. In same skillet, sauté onion in oil. Add chili powder, cumin, salt and beef. Cook and stir in beans, tomato sauce, water and salsa. Mash some of pinto beans.
Simmer until liquid is reduced. Top with cheese. Serve with tortillas or shells and desired topping.

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