Mexicali Spaghetti Bake, Mexican Fried Rice & Mexican Relish Tray: A Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is the one time during the year when Americans celebrate our spicy latin neighbors to the south.  We decorate with red and green, don oversized sombreros and get drunk on cheap beer (just like Saint Patrick’s Day is an excuse to get drunk and pretend to be Irish!).  It’s the one day a year we forget about building fences on our border and deporting people with dark skin and accents, and afford them the dignity of serving us enchiladas and margaritas (better make it snappy).

South of the Border fare is a nice change from chipped beef on toast!

This day celebrates a major battle when, in 1862, a poorly armed Mexican army defeated superior French forces in the Battle of Puebla–it’s not Mexican Independence Day.  In reality, the holiday is mostly celebrated in the United States (thanks to beer distributors and chain restaurants), not Mexico.

Back when we feared white people with Russian accents instead of brown-skinned people with Spanish accents, Cinco de Mayo was seen by housewives and hostesses across America as a time for exotic, flavorful fare, with adventurous ingredients like chili powder, green peppers and ripe olives.  It was a welcome break from the monotony of pot roasts, tuna casseroles and chipped beef on toast.

Who say's tuna should get all the glory of being baked and served in the same dish?

The recipes for this South of the Border Fiesta come from two great publications: Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Cookbook (1959) and Good Housekeeping’s Casserole Book (1958).  Both come from the sweet spot of mid-century culture, sandwiched in the happy times between the McCarthy era and Korean War on one side, and Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis on the other.  All we could think about was progress–and entertaining!  What better way to do so than by eating foreign fare?

So put on your best red and green outfit, make a pot of sweetened tea (or coffee), and get ready to party, South of the Border style!

MEXICAN RELISH TRAY

Ingredients:

Guacamole in tomato holders

chopped red onions and radishes in green-pepper cups

tiny tamales

My recipe notes:

Martha Stewart’s got nothing on these tomato holders and green pepper cups (just cut the tops off and remove the seeds inside).  Unfortunately, there’s no recipe for guacamole here, and you’re on your own with the chopped onions and radishes. But I think your best bet for tiny tamales is the canned version–convenient for when you’re busy making green pepper cups.  Your guests will never know the difference!

MEXICAN FRIED RICE

Ingredients:

1 cup long grain rice

1 1/2 cups hot water

6 bacon slices, chopped

1 can condensed consomme

1 8 oz. can (1 cup) seasoned tomato sauce

1/4 cup chopped green pepper

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

Directions:

Soak fried rice in hot water 25 minutes; drain; let stand to dry, about 1 hour.  Cook bacon till crisp; remove bacon.  Add rice to drippings and cook till rice is slightly browned.  Add bacon and remaining ingredients.  Cover, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, till rice is done and liquid absorbed, about 30 minutes. (Add water during cooking if needed.)  Makes 4 to 6 servings.

My recipe notes:

Since not many home cooks are familiar with Mexican food, this is a nice variation on the more common Chinese Fried Rice (didn’t all housewives make Chinese food in 1958?).  This is the first time I’ve heard of bacon in Spanish Rice, but maybe I’ve been doing it wrong all these years!

Look for the section on Foreign Fare...

MEXICALI SPAGHETTI BAKE

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. spaghetti or noodles

1/4 cup olive oil

1 lb. ground chuck

1 large onion, minced

1 large green pepper, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 No. 2 1/2 can tomatoes (3 1/2 cups)

1 No. 2 can cream-style corn (2 1/2 cups)

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon Worcestershire

1 No. 1 can ripe olives, pitted

Directions:

Cook spaghetti as package directs; drain.  Start heating oven to 325 degrees.  Meanwhile, in oil in skillet, saute chuck till partly browned.  Add onion, pepper, garlic.  When chuck is browned, add spaghetti, tomatoes, corn, salt, pepper, chili powder, Worcestershire, and olives; toss.  Turn into 2 1 1/2 quart casseroles.  Bake 1 hour.  Makes 8 servings.

My recipe notes:

If this recipe doesn’t remind you of those border town vacations, then nothing will!  I’m willing to bet that if we went back to wholesome home-cooked meals like this, we’d be rid of all that nasty drug war business.  Honestly, I think purists like Rick Bayless, are too nit-picky.  Creamed corn, spaghetti and Worcestershire are perfectly at home in Mexican recipes, especially for those of us who find roast pork, chipotle peppers and cilantro just a little too un-American.

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