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A Mexican Feast

Martha Stewart Living, May 2008

Text by Lucinda Scala Quinn, Editorial Director of Food and Entertaining

Menu: Mexican Taco Bar with Chicken and Carnitas
Make-Your-Own Margaritas
Roasted-Tomato Salsa
Salsa Verde
Salsa Cruda
Taco Bar
Poached Chicken
Mango Wedges with Chili

Year after year, I've thrown the same party in early May, one that combines my son's birthday on the fourth with a celebration of Mexican heritage and freedom, Cinco de Mayo, on the fifth. Over the years, we've had a lot of fun with a multigenerational approach that features margaritas and assorted Mexican fruit sodas for starters and, for dessert, spiced mango wedges as well as pinatas filled with candy.

As a longtime student of regional Mexican food, I like to bring together its varied traditions and flavors with a casual taco buffet. Prepared-ahead salsas -- smooth roasted red tomato, chunky cooked green tomatillo, and fresh salsa cruda do double duty as dips and taco toppings. Carnitas, which are juicy pork pieces browned until crisp, shredded poached chicken, fresh fixings, and warm tortillas fill out the rest of the abundant spread.

Busting open pinatas makes a lively after-dinner activity, followed by a street-snack-inspired dessert of mango sprinkled with chili -- another interesting touch everyone will appreciate.

Cook's Countdown

Up to a Week Ahead
Make cooked salsas, and refrigerate. Fill pinatas with candy.

A Day to 1 1/2 Hours Ahead
Poach chicken. Cook pork. Prepare taco fixings, and refrigerate. Make salsa cruda.

An Hour Ahead
Slice and divide mangoes among cups, and refrigerate. Place chili powder and salt in dishes. Juice limes for margaritas. Make homemade chips if desired.

30 Minutes Ahead
Make a pitcher of margaritas. Chill beers and sodas. Hang pinatas. Reheat chicken in oven and pork on stove. Toast tortillas, and keep them warm in oven.

Just Before Party
Set up taco and margarita bars, chips, and salsas.

Shopping List
9 plum tomatoes
4 medium tomatoes
14 tomatillos
2 large white onions
1 medium onion
5 fresh chiles (3 jalapeno, 2 serrano)
1 to 2 heads garilc (7 cloves)
2 bunches fresh cilantro
1 head romaine lettuce
1 bunch radishes
4 ripe mangoes or papayas
3 limes, plus more for margaritas
1 pound queso fresco or Monterey Jack
1 container sour cream (8 ounces)
1 to 2 packages corn tortillas (12 count), plus more for chips
1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
6 pounds roast pork shoulder (butt or picnic roast)
Silver tequila, triple sec, beer, and soda

Pantry Items
3 chiles de arbol or other dried red chiles
Dried ancho-chili powder or cayenne pepper
Candy for pinatas
Coarse salt and table salt
Ice cubes

Text by Lucinda Scala Quinn

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