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Cinco de Mayo Food Traditions & Recipes to Celebrate

Fiesta like there is no mañana with these ultimate Cinco de Mayo recipes and party foods sure to please!

Cinco de Mayo Food Traditions & Recipes to Celebrate


Cinco de Mayo is not just another day to eat Mexican food. In fact, Cinco de Mayo food traditions are as old as the holiday itself! Authentic Cinco de Mayo recipes include truly delicious meals, classic ingredients, and creative Cinco de Mayo desserts. 

Read on to learn more about how to put a healthy spin on Cinco de Mayo ideas with 10 celebrated menu items. 

Cinco de Mayo Food Traditions

Cinco de Mayo is often mistakenly referred to as "Mexican Independence Day". In reality, it is a holiday honoring the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla. The main celebration occurs in its origin Puebla, Mexico, where the holiday has understandably become a big part of their heritage. 

Truly authentic Mexican food is not found in a drive-thru. It is homemade salsa verde, slowly-smoked meats topped with queso, and tortillas handmade in the traditional way. Puebla has been celebrated as a culinary capital for centuries, making food a fabulous way to join the party.

Cherished Dishes to Celebrate 

Pueblan cuisine marries old-world, Spanish flavors with native, new world ingredients. Religion played a big role during the era of the Battle of Puebla. Monasteries and convents were set up to care for the city folk, and Spanish nuns are credited for creating three traditional dishes to feed worshippers: 

Mole Poblano: The sauce mole is made from ground ingredients. It comes in a variety of colors, consistencies, and preparations. Dark mole poblano is an international favorite and considered perhaps the most consumed dish during Cinco de Mayo celebrations. 

Chalupas: Chalupas are a popular street food icon, resembling the more well-known tostadas. With ingredients like thick fried tortillas, salsa, shredded meat, onion, and varieties of cheese, it is not hard to see why chalupas made their mark on the celebration. The word Chalupa traditionally means basket or boat, making the food an ideal vessel for flavor for Cinco de Mayo. 

Chiles en Nogada: This celebrated dish is iconic in its own right. Legend says it was created for the first Mexican emperor. Containing the colors red, white, and green just like the Mexican flag, it offers a variety of flavors and colors to signify the beauty of Mexican tradition. 

Traditional recipes, especially street and restaurant foods, can be packed with high fat and excess sodium. Try making healthy, homemade dishes from fresh and authentic ingredients. Trade the fryer for grilled lean meats (like lean beef or chicken), and add plenty of peppers, onions, fresh salsa, and authentic spices and seasonings.

Wondering how to incorporate traditional dishes into a healthy holiday celebration? Read on for the ultimate Cinco de Mayo menu!

Cinco de Mayo Recipes

The following dishes are a great way to celebrate while still keeping nutrients high and a lower level of calories, salt, and sodium. Plus, they have plenty of protein-packed ingredients to fuel a day-long Cinco de Mayo celebration.

1. Black Bean Omelet

Start the holiday in a healthy way by mixing Mexican shredded cheese, bell peppers, and spices like cumin and pepper into a black bean omelet. (No better way to begin the Cinco de Mayo menu!)

2. Jalapeño Burgers

From the ground meat to the avocado garnish, jalapeño turkey burgers combine traditional ingredients in a healthy way. Spices such as chipotle powder, cilantro, paprika, and cinnamon give turkey burgers a flavor profile befitting of a big fiesta. 

3. Tacos

While meat and cheese are often the stars of Cinco de Mayo and Mexican cuisine, cauliflower tacos put a vegetarian twist on classic crowd-pleasers. Roasted cauliflower tacos take a note from mole and let the ground ingredients and seasonings speak for themselves. Plus, vegetarian recipes allow for everyone to join in on the fun! 

Tacos are versatile and customizable for virtually every eater. Cinco de Mayo menus are a great reason to experiment with the most delicious taco recipes. Some delicious combinations include:

• Carne asada tacos with flank steak, lettuce, avocado, pico de gallo, and lime juice
• Mexican taco pizzas topped with seasoned and mashed black beans and other favorite taco ingredients 
• Taco lasagna uniquely layered with all the taco favorites 
• Ice cream tacos sweetened with cinnamon sugar for one delicious Mexican-inspired dessert

Feel free to also experiment with flour and corn tortillas, these best taco toppings, and other creative ingredients! 

4. Homemade Mexican Fajitas

Fajitas are basically a stripped-down version of chalupas. They do skimp on the protein though, containing almost 22 grams per serving plus 3 grams of fiber. Traditional chicken fajitas forgo the frying but keep the cooked meats, flavorful seasonings, and a variety of bell peppers. 

5. Mexican Rice and Beans

When in doubt, nothing beats rice and beans. Semi-authentic rice and beans can honor the original, even when an ancient grain like farro is added in place of Spanish rice. Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce make this dish reminiscent of Pueblan platters. 

6. Salsa Verde Pulled Pork 

A fan favorite for hot summer nights, family dinners, and Cinco de Mayo parties, salsa verde pulled pork practically melts in your mouth. The traditional version of this dish is Mexican carnitas or shredded pork. 

Salsa verde is Spanish for green salsa, which pays homage to its Mexican roots by containing tasty tomatillos. 

7. Guilt-Free Margaritas

As the weather starts to heat up on Cinco de Mayo, a frozen strawberry margarita is a delicious drink with a healthy twist. Blending traditional ingredients like agave and tequila with fresh produce such as strawberries and citrus, this icy drink should be on almost every menu. 

8. Guacamole & Salsa

Similar to mole, guacamole features ground-up ingredients and a burst of flavor, unlike any other dip. Edamame guacamole puts a unique spin on the popular side dish while still delivering traditional spices such as cayenne pepper.

Another option is to combine tomatoes, peppers, avocados, and jalapeño for a fresh tomato salsa and avocado chips and dip side dish. 

Cinco de Mayo Desserts

Looking for a healthy Mexican dessert beyond the traditional tres leches cake? Give these Cinco de Mayo dessert recipes a try!

9. Mexican Flag Healthy Apple Nachos

Possibly the simplest recipe on this list, 5-minute healthy apple nachos take almost no time at all. Flavorful enough to satisfy any sweet tooth, they add crunch and chocolate without adding too many calories. After a day full of celebratory meals, apple nachos are the perfect light dessert and easy recipe to wind down to. 

Make the colors of the Mexican flag by alternating different varieties of red and green apples. 

10. Avocado Brownies

Avocados found their origin in south-central Mexico thousands of years ago. It does not get more authentic than the avocado for Cinco de Mayo! Plus, avocados are in season during the spring and summer, meaning the freshest varieties will be available around May. 

A healthy and fudgy avocado brownie ties traditional Mexican produce with other healthy ingredients. Make it even more authentic by mixing in a small dash of cayenne pepper and a sprinkling of cinnamon into the batter (to taste).

A twist on authentic favorites might just be the beginning of a new tradition. That is something worth trying this Cinco de Mayo!

References:

California Avocado Commission. The History of California Avocados. Californiaavocado.com. Published July 30, 2020. https://californiaavocado.com/avocado101/the-history-of-california-avocados/#:~:text=The%20avocado%20(Persea%20americana)%20originated,this%20wild%20variety%20was%20cultivated

Esposito S. What to Really Eat on Cinco de Mayo. Smithsonianmag.com. Published May 3, 2013. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/what-to-really-eat-on-cinco-de-mayo-50767054/.

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on April 15, 2021. Updated on April 15, 2021.

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