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Four recipes to try for Cinco de Mayo

One of the easiest holidays to celebrate locally takes place today.

It is Cinco de Mayo, a decidedly American observance with a Mexican flavor. It has often seemed to mostly be an excuse to drink a lot of Mexican beer and, if that is your focus, have at it. My favorite Mexican beer is Bohemia, and it is so good with tacos, which are among my favorite foods and always have been.

Overall, it makes sense that Mexican food — its ingredients, its techniques — is a staple in California. We were, not all that long ago, part of Mexico. Our style of cooking in the Golden State is shaped by those decades and by the years of the ranchero, where many of our beloved dishes were first developed.

For nearly two decades, Roseland has held a big Cinco de Mayo celebration, but we’ll have to wait for 2022 for the next one. In the meantime, our Mexican taco trucks, taquerias, cafes and restaurants are open if you want someone else to do the cooking.

If you want to do the cooking yourself, here are four Mexican-inspired recipes I have made over and over again.

Do you have favorite Mexican dishes you prepare at home? I’d love to hear about them, so feel free to post in the comments section of the online version of the paper.

Avocados are good and plentiful this year. After you’ve had your fill of guacamole, avocado toast and avocado salads, give this tart and tangy soup a try. It is delicious hot or chilled.

Sopa de Aguacate (Mexican Avocado Soup)

Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons minced white onion

1 serrano, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 poblano, stemmed, seeded and chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

Kosher salt

6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, hot

3 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded and chopped

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, from 1 to 2 limes

Black pepper in a mill

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Condiments of choice (see note below)

Pour the olive oil into a medium soup pot or saucepan, set over medium-low heat. Add the onion, serrano and poblano and saute gently until they soften and begin to give off their aromas, about 10 to 12 minutes. Do not let them brown. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute more. Add about a quarter of the chicken stock. Season with salt, simmer for 10 minutes, cover and remove from the heat.

Put the avocados, remaining stock, lime juice and a teaspoon of salt into the work bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse until a smooth puree is formed. Pour the puree into the saucepan with the other ingredients. Season with several turns of black pepper and stir in half the cilantro.

Set over low heat and heat through, stirring all the while. Do not let boil.

Taste, correct for salt and ladle into soup plates or bowls. Top with the remaining cilantro and condiments of choice and enjoy right away.

Suggested condiments

  • Mexican-style hot sauce, preferably green
  • Mexican crema
  • Radish salsa (see recipe, below)
  • Seared shrimp, seared scallops or Oregon baby shrimp
  • Carnitas

I tend to be a purist when it comes to tomatoes — I don’t cook with them until they ripen locally. So I make a lot of salsas using other ingredients, including this one, an all-time favorite.

Radish Salsa

Makes about 1 to 1½ cups

1 large bunch radishes, trimmed and cut into small dice

1 very small red onion, cut into small dice

1 fresh serrano, seeded and minced

1 garlic clove, crushed and minced

Zest of 1 lime

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Mexican oregano, if available

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

Put the diced radishes, onion, serrano, garlic and lime zest into a medium bowl. Add the cilantro and Mexican oregano, if using, and toss gently but thoroughly.

Season generously with kosher salt and several turns of black pepper, add the lime juice and toss again.

Stir in the olive oil, cover, refrigerate for 30 minutes, taste, correct for salt and acid balance and enjoy right away.

Suggested uses

  • Over bean soups and avocado soup
  • In tacos and burritos
  • With fajitas
  • With nachos
  • Over steamed rice or Mexican rice
  • Over queso fundido, when it comes out of the oven
  • Over sliced avocado or avocado toast
  • With grilled vegetables, especially green onions and eggplant

This style of rice is as delicious as it is versatile. It makes a fabulous side dish, a bed for grilled fish or meat or part of a large buffet or taco bar. I have given instructions for white rice, as it takes the flavors of the other ingredients without interfering with them. If you use brown rice, I recommend cooking it in the stock until it is about two-thirds done and then adding the green puree.

Arroz Verde (Mexican-Style Green Rice)

Makes about 8 servings

2 cups long-grain rice, preferably white, rinsed, soaked for 30 minutes and drained

2 poblanos, stemmed and seeded

1 or 2 serranos, stemmed and seeded

1 small white onion, peeled, trimmed and chopped

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 cup, packed, fresh cilantro leaves

½ cup, packed, Italian parsley leaves

1 tablespoon Mexican oregano, optional

Kosher salt

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth or stock, hot

2 tablespoons olive oil

Black pepper in a mill

2 limes, cut in wedges

1 jalapeño, very thinly sliced crosswise

Spread the rice on a clean tea towel to dry a bit.

While the rice dries, make the green puree. To do so, in a blender, put the poblanos, serranos, onion, garlic, cilantro leaves, parsley leaves and oregano, if using. Add 2 generous teaspoons of kosher salt and ½ cup of broth or stock and pulse several times, until a smooth puree is formed. Taste, correct for salt and set aside.

Pour the olive oil into a wide, deep saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Add the rice and toast, stirring all the while, for about 10 minutes, until the rice turns milky white and begins to pick up a bit of color. Adjust the heat as needed so the rice does not burn.

Pour in the green puree and the stock and stir well. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat so it just simmers, cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat without lifting the lid and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Uncover, stir and fluff the rice with a fork.

Season with several turns of black pepper, correct for salt, garnish with lime wedges and sliced cilantro and enjoy right away.

Cheese bread with garlic butter, Jack cheese and Italian herbs was likely the most popular appetizer at the Brass Ass, which once had locations in Santa Rosa and Cotati. I managed the Cotati location for a few years in the mid-1980s. I often put this Mexican version of cheese bread on our specials menu and it is the one I now make at home.

Mexican Cheese Bread

Makes 4 servings

4 sourdough French rolls, unsplit

8 garlic cloves, minced

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 to 4 poblanos, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into medium julienne

2 serranos, roasted, peeled and minced

1 ½ cups (6 ounces) grated cheese, such as Joe Matos St. George, Jack or similar cheese

1 firm-ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into lengthwise slices

1 lime, in wedges

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use a sharp bread knife to make four crosswise cuts in each French roll, being careful not to cut all the way through the bread.

Put the garlic into a small bowl and add the olive oil. Use a pastry brush to paint the mixture in the incisions made in the bread.

Slip both poblanos and serranos into each slip, pressing them down into the interior. Add cheese.

When all the rolls have been filled, set them on a baking sheet, set them in the oven and cook until the cheese is melted and the bread is lightly toasted, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Set a slice of avocado in each cut and sprinkle with a bit of salt and some of the cilantro and enjoy right away, with lime wedges alongside.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The New Cook’s Tour of Sonoma.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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