A few years ago, when we lived in a different house, we had a small, pool-side Cinco de Mayo party. I made the margaritas (as usual) and my husband made everything else. Literally. From scratch. The pinto beans, flour tortillas, salsa, guacamole, and marinated chicken. Fast forward to now…two moves later and we finally got around to hosting our second Cinco de Mayo party. Same friends, almost the same menu. But this time, my husband made the sour cream and the Asadero cheese, too. From scratch. No joke. We didn’t grow the beans or milk the cow or grind the wheat, but we got as close as we could to “from scratch.” Pick and choose…I will give you the whole scoop on what we did…and simplify as you see fit. Either way, the menu is fairly straightforward: beans, guacamole, tortillas, chicken and salsa. The only thing you could call “fancy” was the margaritas, but then again…they deserve a little fanciness, especially on Cinco de Mayo!
First Priority: Margarita Bar. A few days prior, I’d suggest buying the limes. You’ll need a little time to juice them. A perfect margarita is made of three equal parts, so make sure you have lots of each:
- fresh lime juice
Typically, a cocktail has two ounces of liquor per serving, so you can plan for a six ounce margarita: two ounces lime juice, two ounces tequila and two ounces of Cointreau. I got two five-pound bags of limes, each of which yielded 750 ml (approximately 25 ounces, a little over three cups). There were five of us and we only used one five-pound bag worth of limes. Pro-tip: freeze the remaining lime juice in large ice-cube trays. Each section(cube) holds three ounces of liquid. You can defrost one or two cubes at a time, when you want them.
There is a lot you can do to set up a really fun margarita bar. Start with the basics and go from there. A really good “basic” margarita is really good. Some people may not want to change it, so make sure you have the three key ingredients first.
Rather than using a cocktail jigger, I used small (two/three ounce) fun glasses and containers for measuring. This was a make-your-own margarita situation, so people mixed up their own drinks, starting off with the basic recipe: two ounces lime juice (or other tart juice, if you’d rather), two ounces Cointreau (or other sweet liqueur, like St. Germain) and two ounces tequila.
In addition to the three main components, I pureed some kumquats and also red plum, placing each in a small glass so that our friends could spoon a bit of either (or both!) over the top of their margarita. I also had a little bit of pineapple juice, fresh passion fruit, papaya bitters and fresh mint. Other fun things to add would be fresh peach, finely diced or pureed, and pureed cherries (which you can buy frozen and pitted). For a fun and sparkling “top-off” I also had a bottle of Lolea white sangría. This is absolutely delicious and fairly sweet – a nice way to finish off a margarita, particularly if you need to sweeten it up a bit at the end. Pro-tip: I keep the Lolea bottles and peel off the decorative cover. I use these for parties, like this…this time, I used it for the lime juice.
Don’t forget to have lots of ice available, too. And speaking of ice, rather than tossing the pulp from the TEN POUNDS of limes that I juiced (and gave myself a sore arm muscle!) I saved it and made two batches of special ice cubes: one batch was lime pulp + St. Germaine and the second batch was lime pulp + (finely) grated jalapeño. I used a silicon heart mold as an ice tray and put a few of each type of “ice” cube out at the last minute in small, Le Creuset Petite Cocottes. The “ice” cubes made of pulp melt very quickly – that is why you’ll only want to put a few out at a time.
I used a small desk (that actually looks more like a side table) for my margarita bar. I put a beautiful Mexican cloth over it that we got for our wedding and tried to use as many colorful things as possible. Don’t forget the flowers…and think bright, bright, bright.
Now that we’ve all had a drink, let’s move on to the food! 😜
Guacamole + Chips
Sides: Sour Cream, fresh cilantro (chopped), hot sauce if you like.
Guacamole + Chips (No, we did not make the chips from scratch, but you may want one of these for making guacamole from scratch!) My favorite tortilla chips are the chips that Whole Foods or Vallarta makes in-house, or Have’A Corn Chips.
Salsa (Not pico de gallo, but more like picante sauce. Once you have this, you’re done for, it’s so good!)
Flour Tortillas – I am sharing with you, much to my husband’s chagrin, the Secret Family Recipe.
- 4 Cups Flour
- ½ Cup Shortening/Lard
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ⅓ Cups water
Mix flour and salt. Cut in shortening (mix with the back of a fork until the flour becomes crumbly). Mix water in with hands to form dough. Roll into balls and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Roll/press into tortillas.Use tortilla pan (comal) — medium heat. Flip with fingers until done. Set aside under a cloth napkin or in a tortilla warmer (also available at Vallarta).
Asadero Cheese, melted on a comal (or in a skillet). This was a lot of work. There is great Asadero cheese at your local grocery. Just sayin’.
Peruvian Chicken (I know, it’s not Mexican but it is ridiculously good.) I beg my husband to make this at least once a week, but he only indulges me about once every two months, which makes me so sad. I am confident that I could eat this frequently and it’d take me over a decade to get tired of it.
Sides: Sour Cream, fresh cilantro (chopped), hot sauce if you like.
A few suggestions:
- If you are going to make the beans yourself, you’ll want to start at least two days ahead of time. They need to first soak overnight and then cook for a while. A crock-pot works nicely in this case.
- Get the limes ahead of time so that you have time to juice them. Do not skimp on the lime juice. Of all the things, this is the non-negotiable. It must be fresh lime juice.
- In terms of decorating, go bright or go home. If you don’t have anything that looks “Mexican” use whatever you have that is bright and colorful – there is no need to run to Party City or Michael’s. Use what you have. Mix colors and as always, add bright flowers.
- Think outside the box. I used hobnail glasses, like these, for the kumquat and red plum puree. I used a milk glass, hobnail creamer (like this) for the pineapple juice. Don’t have enough of the same type of glass for all of your guests? Mix and match!
Nearly all of this can be purchased at you local grocery. The menu itself isn’t complicated…so if you are interested in throwing a little Cinco de Mayo fiesta, it can be easily done with just a little effort. As long as your drinks are fantastic, all else falls into place…am I right?