A Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

By Nanette Blanchard

Every spring, grocery stores throughout the southwestern United States fill up with traditional Mexican party foods in preparation for Cinco de Mayo, or the 5th of May.

It is a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexican Independence Day, but this is not so. September 16, 1810, marked the beginning of Mexican independence and the nation's decade-long fight to free itself from Spanish rule. Cinco de Mayo commemorates May 5, 1862, when General Ignacio Zaragoza's poorly armed and outnumbered troop of Mexican soldiers defeated Napoleon III's well-prepared occupational French army in the Battle of Puebla, a city 100 miles east of Mexico City. Cinco de Mayo venerates the date of this victorious battle.

In recent years, Cinco de Mayo has become much like St. Patrick's Day in that many Americans, regardless of their ethnic origins, observe this date with food, music, parades, and other festivities. In fact, it's often celebrated on a larger scale in the United States than it is in its region of origin. This year, why not try this fresh and flavorful vegan menu for your own Cinco de Mayo celebration?

Chili peppers are an essential ingredient in Mexican cuisine. In the Southwest, you can buy them fresh, frozen, canned, and dried. Fresh green chili peppers include the long green Anaheim chilies, the rounder mild poblano chilies, and the more common jalapeños and serranos. Habaneros are round, orange, and extremely hot. Always use rubber gloves when handling any hot chili variety, and wash your hands well with soap and water after you work with them.

To roast your own chilies, place them whole under the broiler, on a hot skillet, or directly on a gas flame. Keep turning them until the skin on all sides is blackened and blistered. Put the roasted chilies in a covered container to let them continue to steam. Once they cool, remove the skins and seeds. Roasted chilies freeze very well.

Chipotle chili peppers are smoke-dried jalapeños and bring a wonderful smoldering heat to your recipes. They can be purchased whole, powdered, or canned in a spicy tomato sauce called adobo sauce, which is available in the Latino or international foods sections of many grocery stores. Leftover chipotles in adobo sauce can easily be frozen whole or puréed.

The dried red chili powder used here is different than the chili powder you usually see at the store. Chili powder includes many ingredients, but dried red chili powder is only dried chilies and comes in varying degrees of heat.

Jicama and Orange Salad

(Serves 6)

  • 1 small jicama (approximately 1 pound), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 oranges, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt

In a large serving bowl, mix all ingredients together. Cover and chill for 15 minutes. Toss again and serve.

Total calories per serving: 55 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 296 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Sopa de Pasta

(Serves 6)

Sopa de Pasta, also called Sopa de Fideos, is a Mexican comfort food and very popular with children. Mexican sopas are thick like stews.

  • One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 ounces uncooked vermicelli or angel hair pasta, broken into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
In a food processor, combine tomatoes, onions, garlic, and chipotle. Process until smooth.

In a heavy soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add pasta and cook, stirring, until pasta starts to turn golden, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato mixture and broth, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until pasta is al dente (just firm but not soft), approximately 5 minutes.

Divide soup evenly amongst six bowls and garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately.

Total calories per serving: 147 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 26 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 576 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams


(Serves 6)

Calabacitas means “little squash” and is a very popular Mexican side dish. It goes well with nearly any Mexican-inspired entrée.

  • 1 Tablespoon nonhydrogenated vegan margarine or canola oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • ½ cup roasted and peeled green chilies, such as Anaheim
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large non-stick skillet, heat margarine or oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until golden and tender, approximately 10 minutes. Stir in zucchini, corn, and chilies. Cover and cook, stirring once, until zucchini is tender, approximately 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Total calories per serving: 71 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 5 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Green Chilies Stuffed with Frijoles (Beans)

(Serves 6)

Traditional stuffed chilies (chilies rellenos) are deep-fried and full of fat. This healthier version is colorful and much easier to prepare. If you roast your own whole chilies for this dish, leave on the stems, as that makes them easier to stuff and serve.

  • 12 whole roasted and peeled poblano chili peppers
  • Two 16-ounce cans vegetarian refried beans
  • 4 scallions, diced
  • 1 cup shredded vegan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wearing rubber gloves, slice down one side of each chili pepper. Carefully remove stem and seeds, keeping chili intact. Mix refried beans with scallions and stuff each poblano with 2 heaping Tablespoons of beans. Place in a greased 2-quart baking dish. Top with shredded cheese, if desired.

Bake for 15 minutes or until heated through. Top each chili with some Red Chili Sauce.

Total calories per serving: 274 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 47 grams Protein: 12 grams
Sodium: 793 milligrams Fiber: 15 grams

Red Chili Sauce

(Makes 2 cups or six ⅓-cup servings)

This all-purpose red sauce can be used as a sauce for enchiladas or burritos. Try a few spoonfuls on top of posole (hominy soup) or with roasted potatoes.

  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon red chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon unbleached or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ¾ teaspoon salt or to taste

In a heavy medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds. Add chili powder, flour, and oregano and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the water and tomato paste, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, approximately 15 minutes. Season with salt. Serve hot.

Note: This sauce will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Total calories per serving: 33 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 4 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 380 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Easy Capirotada

(Serves 6)

This recipe yields a delicious bread pudding.

  • 6 thick slices whole grain bread, toasted
  • ¼ cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 2 large apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1 ¼ cups pure maple syrup
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the bread with margarine and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place half of the cubes in a 1 ½-quart baking dish and sprinkle with half of the apples, raisins, and apricots. Repeat with another layer of toast and fruit.

In a small saucepan, bring the maple syrup, cinnamon stick, and cloves to a simmer. Cover and remove from heat.

With a small strainer or spoon, remove cinnamon stick and cloves from the syrup mixture and discard. Pour the syrup over bread and fruit mixture in baking dish. Mix all ingredients well to distribute syrup. Bake for 20 minutes and serve warm.

Total calories per serving: 535 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 111 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 241 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Nanette Blanchard is a freelance writer who celebrates Cinco de Mayo at her home in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico.