Randy’s Recipes: Cinco de Mayo Menu

By Randy Graham

Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday in Mexico and is celebrated throughout our Southwest. Growing up in the 1960s, I used to think Cinco de Mayo was like our Fourth of July.

Cinco de Mayo, however, is a celebration of Mexico’s military victory over French colonialists in 1862. When Mexico declared a temporary moratorium on the repayment of foreign debts, troops from England, Spain, and France invaded. By April 1862, the English and Spanish had withdrawn. Still, with the support of wealthy Mexican landowners, the French remained in an attempt to establish a monarchy to curb U.S. power in North America.

On May 5, 1862, a poorly equipped mestizo and Zapotec force under the command of Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated French troops at the Battle of Puebla. Although the French withdrew from Mexico five years later, this battle symbolized Mexican resistance to foreign domination.

I am making this for my family in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. I think you will also enjoy making some (or all!) of these for your family.

Chorizo Stuffed Poblano Peppers Appetizers

Makes 10 servings


5 Poblano peppers

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ white onion (chopped fine)

1 small jalapeño pepper (seeded and chopped fine)

2 chorizo sausages (chopped into ¼-inch pieces)

1¾ cups cooked brown basmati rice

1¼ cups canned black beans (rinsed and drained)

1 cup fresh corn off the cob (about one corn cob)

½ teaspoon California chili powder

1½ teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (not Mediterranean oregano)

Salt and pepper to taste

2½ cups Monterey Jack cheese (finely shredded)

3 green onions (sliced for garnish)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and ribs. Rinse and place on a baking sheet. Place the peppers in the center rack of an oven set on broil. Roast for 4 to 5 minutes on one side, turn over and roast for another 4 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

While the peppers are roasting, chop the chorizo into ¼-inch pieces. Measure out 1½ cups and set aside. My omnivore wife, Robin, likes this dish with either meat or vegetarian chorizo. I like Soyrizo, but if you are an omnivore like Robin, substitute your favorite meat chorizo.

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add in the onion and jalapeño and sauté for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add the sausage, then stir and sauté until the sausage is warmed, about 6 minutes more. Stir in rice, beans, and corn.  Sprinkle in the seasonings (chili powder through salt and pepper) and stir well to combine. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the cooked peppers on a baking sheet and mound the sausage mixture onto each pepper. Top liberally with shredded cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown.

To serve, sprinkle with green onions. You can also drizzle a creamy chipotle dressing over each one for extra taste.

I enjoyed a vegetarian Tex-Mex dish at Café de la Paz in Berkeley in the gourmet ghetto neighborhood. I tried duplicating the dish from memory when I returned to Ojai. What I came up with was more of a Mexican lasagna than the “Tamal Azteca” on the menu at Café de la Paz. I call it Lasagna Azteca.

Lasagna Azteca

Make 6 to 8 servings

Lasagna Ingredients:   

1 batch of Azteca Sauce (see below)

9 stale corn tortillas

12 ounces fresh baby spinach

16 ounce package of frozen corn (thawed)

12 ounces Oaxaca cheese (cut into 1-inch pieces)

¼ cup cilantro (chopped – for garnish)

Assembly Directions:     

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Boil two quarts of water. When water is boiling, add spinach and allow to cook for 90 seconds (no more). Immediately remove from heat and drain well. Set aside.

Lightly coat a deep baking dish (approximately 9”x9”x3”) with vegetable oil spray. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom. Cover sauce with three tortillas. Spread spinach over the tortillas. Top with ¼ of the cheese and one cup of sauce.

Place three tortillas on top and press down gently. Spread the corn over the top and cover with one cup of sauce and ¼ of the cheese. Place three more tortillas on top and press down.

Spread the remaining sauce on the tortillas. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle cilantro on top of the cheese before serving.

Azteca Sauce Ingredients:           

1 small white onion, chopped (about a cup)

½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic (chopped)

28 ounces crushed tomatoes (do not drain)

1 cup hot water

1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base

½ teaspoon salt

1½ tablespoons red chili powder

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Azteca Sauce Directions:           

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add crushed tomatoes, water, Better Than Bouillon, salt, and chili powder. Stir till well mixed. Simmer uncovered over low heat for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir in cilantro, remove from heat, and let cool. When still warm (but not hot), put the sauce in a blender and puree.

This sauce stores well in the refrigerator for up to one week.

We can all agree that a good burrito is made with fresh ingredients. The right combination of ingredients distinguishes a good burrito from a great one. Here are my recommendations for what a great burrito must include at a minimum:

– Fresh flour tortillas. Handmade tortillas are preferable to store-bought ones.

– A variety of colors, textures, and fresh flavors. Mono-filling burritos are bland.

– Beans. I love rice but not in my burrito. Rice tends to make a burrito mushy and doesn’t add all that much flavor.

– Pico de gallo, made with farm-fresh ingredients. This provides texture and flavor.

– Creamy guacamole. This is an additional flavor layer.

– Tangy Monterey Jack cheese. ‘Nuff said.

– Grilling. This provides a crispy outside texture – but not too crispy. The burrito must still be chewy.

I like my burritos to be uncomplicated yet tasty, familiar yet unique. I’m not convinced that burritos should include a mound of fancy fried potatoes or French fries. Too trendy for me.

My use of local, farm-fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro, chilies, garlic, avocados, kale, and limes makes them unique. Fresh cactus leaves with which to make nopalitos are available at many Certified Farmer’s Markets, or you can find them already processed and pickled at one of our local markets.

A Great (and tasty) Burrito

Makes 4 burritos


5 medium and firm tomatoes (¼-inch dice)

1 medium white onion (peeled and diced)

¼ cup fresh cilantro (chopped fine)

2 jalapeño chilies (seeded and chopped fine)

1 medium clove garlic (peeled and minced)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

4 ripe avocados (peeled and pits removed)

3 tablespoons red onion (chopped fine)

¼ cup fresh cilantro (chopped)

1 large clove garlic (peeled and minced)

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons Mexican Crema

½ teaspoon salt

2 serrano chilies (retain seeds and chop fine)

½ cup pickled nopalitos (drained – Doña María is a good brand)

½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon lime juice

⅛ teaspoon cumin powder

Pinch of salt

3 large fresh kale leaves (ribs removed and leaves cut into ribbons)

2 cups cooked or canned black beans (rinsed and drained)

2 cups Sonoma Jack cheese (grated fine)

4 flour tortillas (12-inches in diameter)


Combine the first seven ingredients (tomatoes thru salt and pepper) in a bowl, cover, and set aside. This is the Pico de Gallo.

Add the next nine ingredients (avocados thru nopalitos) to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a bowl, cover, and set aside. This is the guacamole.

Combine the next five ingredients (olive oil thru kale) in a large bowl and toss to mix well. Set aside. This provides color, flavor, and crunchiness.


Gently heat one of the tortillas on a grill over medium heat for about a minute. Place the tortilla on a clean work surface and add a base of beans down the middle of the tortilla (about ½ cup of beans per burrito). Layer two heaping tablespoons of Pico de Gallo on top of the beans. Layer two to three tablespoons of guacamole on top of the Pico de Gallo. Layer ¼ of the kale mixture on top of that. Finish with ½ cup grated cheese.

Once you have all the fillings in place, pull the bottom half of the tortilla over to meet the top half. Then, pull the tortilla back. This will form the filling into a nice roll. Fold both ends of the tortilla over and tightly roll your burrito. Set the completed burrito aside (with the seam side down) and repeat this process three more times.

Place the burritos on a grill preheated to medium-high heat. Grill each burrito for 1 minute on one side, then turn it over and grill for another 30 to 45 seconds on the other. Put the leftover Pico de Gallo and guacamole in dishes and serve as sides to the burritos.

Tres Salsas translates as “three salsas” in English. Cinco de Mayo translates as “Fifth of May.” So, what is this title trying to say? It’s my clumsy way of saying I’m offering three different salsa recipes to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Why do I offer only three different salsas and not five? Five would have been fantastic because the title could have been “Cinco Salsas for Cinco de Mayo,” which sounds much better. I wish I had a better answer, but the truth is that I only have three different salsa recipes in my culinary bag of tricks. These salsas are so good, however, that three are good enough. Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Tres Salsas for Cinco de Mayo

Grilled Peach and Avocado Salsa


2 ripe Haas avocados

2 ripe peaches

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (divided)

¼ cup shallots (chopped fine)

2 garlic cloves (minced)

2 jalapeños (seeds removed and sliced thin)

¼ teaspoon salt


Preheat your grill on medium-high heat (400 to 450 degrees) for 10-15 minutes.

While the grill is heating, slice the avocados and peaches in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Brush a mixture of one tablespoon of olive oil plus one tablespoon of lime juice on the flat sides of each half. Make sure they’re coated generously to avoid sticking to the grill.

Once the grill is hot, add the avocado and peach halves, cut side down, and close the lid. Grill for 4 minutes. Use grill tongs to carefully remove the peach and avocado halves to a plate.

While the peaches are still hot, they can be easily peeled. Allow them to cool before dicing. Use a large spoon to scoop the avocado flesh away from 
the peel.

Combine the remaining lime juice, shallots, garlic, and jalapeños in a large bowl. Dice the avocados and peaches into small pieces and fold them into the salsa. Refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes before serving.

Mango Habanero Salsa


2 fresh mangoes

¼ teaspoon fresh habanero chiles seeded and diced fine)

3 tablespoons red bell pepper (chopped fine)

2 tablespoons white onion (diced fine)

1½ tablespoons fresh cilantro (chopped fine)

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

½ teaspoon salt


Remove the skin and seed from mangoes. Puree enough fruit in a blender to provide ½ cup mango pulp, and cut enough mangos for another ½ cup diced mango.

Remove the seeds from the habanero and dice finely. Note: when removing seeds, use gloves if necessary and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. If you like hot salsa, use ½ teaspoon diced habanero chiles.

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix well. Cover and let sit for one hour to allow flavors to blend. If the salsa is too thick, add a small amount of water.

Salsa Fresca


5 – 6 medium tomatoes (diced)

1 medium white onion (diced)

¼ cup fresh cilantro (chopped fine)

2 jalapeno chiles (seeded and chopped fine)

1 garlic clove (minced)

Juice of 1 lime

Salt (to taste)


Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, stir, and enjoy.

Jalapeños in Escabeche

Escabeche is a Mediterranean cuisine, generally referring to a dish of poached or fried fish marinated in an acidic mixture before serving. In addition to Mediterranean countries, escabeche 
is common in Salvadoran, Panamanian, Peruvian, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Guatemalan, and 
Mexican cuisine.

And although escabeche is generally identified with fish dishes, it also refers to the vegan marinade itself. In Mexico, sliced or whole jalapeños en escabeche are used as a garnish for various dishes.


16 ounces jalapeño peppers

1/3 cup olive oil

2 – 3 medium white or yellow onions (thickly sliced)

3 medium carrots (scrubbed and thickly sliced)

1 head garlic (cloves separated and peeled)

4 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

2 tablespoons Kosher salt or sea salt

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon dried oregano

4 sprigs of fresh marjoram or ¼ teaspoon of dried

4 sprigs of fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon of dried

1 tablespoon sugar


Wash the chiles, leaving the stems intact. Cut a cross in the tip end of each chile so the vinegar can penetrate.

Heat oil on medium heat in a large, deep skillet. Add the chiles, onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning them over occasionally.

Add the vinegar, water, salt, herbs, and sugar, and boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Make sure the chiles are entirely cooked through before canning.

Pack 4 pint-sized sterilized jars with the chiles and vegetables. Top with the vinegar and seal. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Share with friends and family.