Yes, we know: Cinco de Mayo is not a "real" Mexican holiday in the sense that some people may think. The true Mexican Independence Day is observed on Sept. 16 in a celebration known as El Grito de la Independencia, commemorating liberation from the Spanish. So why bother making authentic food for a "fake" holiday?
Well, it's probably a little uncharitable to call it a fake holiday, because Cinco de Mayo does celebrate something very real — namely liberation from the French (haw haw) during the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Although it's not celebrated in any big way in Mexico, it's a huge part of Mexican-American culture. And what better way to flip a bird at the French than to make some really good Mexican food?[slideshow:
So we teamed up with Pati Jinich, the official chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C. and author of Pati's Mexican Table, to get some invaluable advice on how to cook authentic Mexican food at home.
Jinich has cooked at Blair House, the official guest house for the president of the United States, and has been featured on TODAY and The Chew. Jinich grew up in Mexico City and was immersed in the flavors of authentic Mexican cuisine from the very beginning, and at heart she is a home cook, so we thought she was the perfect person to turn to for help with simplifying authentic Mexican cooking.
The first thing we wanted to know though was, "What is real Mexican food?"
Jinich says, "It just depends on your perspective. For me, as a native of Mexico, authentic Mexican food is the food I grew up eating. It is the food that has been passed down generation after generation, but at the same time it is also the food that has been concocted in home kitchens using contemporary ingredients."
But there must be so much more than what we see on the menus of so many Mexican restaurants in the United States — namely, heavy burritos, tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, and the like bursting with cheese. To which Jinich replied, "It's tricky — if you come into my house and I serve the authentic Aztec dishes that were served before the Spanish came, you would probably jump out of my house; you probably wouldn't eat it."