Cinco de Mayo Starters

Green Cotton
By Evin O’Keeffe

When I was living in California, Cinco de Mayo was a huge celebration focused on food, family, and festivities. But no matter where you live, with fresh ingredients and a little time you can create your own fiesta! On May 5, 1862, Mexican soldiers won a pivotal battle and Cinco de Mayo became a holiday. Bring flavors from south of the border to even the most classic of grilled chicken or classic tacos by serving it with these two first courses.

Julia’s Gazpacho is my mother’s own recipe for the chilled soup that it one of my all-time favorites. Refreshing and chocked full of natural nutrients, gazpacho is from Andalusia and enjoyed in Spain and Portugal. Despite its origins, it uses ingredients popular in Mexico is brings a cooling element to spicy meals or warm evenings.

Tyler’s Guacamole is a perfect example of a healthy food that tastes decadent. Tyler has spent years perfecting his cooking skills and enjoyed countless trips to Mexico to taste authentic cuisine. This now benefits you since he’s generously sharing his avocado secrets. The easiest way to keep your guacamole or chopped avocado fresh and green is to seal it in a container with the original stone and refrigerate until ready to serve. This also works when you’re making a big batch of avocado roll sushi, but might as well put all the stones of avocados you use to help it stay bright avocado green. A bit of lemon or lime juice also can help prolong the life of your avocado meat, however it may alter the flavor slightly.

Celebrate fresh ingredients any day with these simple yet delicious starters treats.

Julia’s Gazpacho
4 or 5 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 serano pepper, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 cups tomato juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup bread crumbs (fresh bread is best)
2 tablespoons medium-acid red wine vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1. Combine the chopped tomatoes, minced serano pepper, minced garlic, diced cucumbers, diced bell pepper, sliced onion, and all but 2 tablespoons of the cilantro in a food processor or blender. Mix to create a chunky consistency then pour into a large bowl. Add the tomato and lemon juices, bread crumbs, and vinegar. Stir briefly then add the fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper.
2. Chill the soup for at least one hour before serving.

Tyler’s Guacamole
3 ripe Haas avocados (not brown)
3 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 Roma or vine-ripened tomato, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1 serano pepper
tortilla chips (for dipping)
1. Cut around the avocado completely, but not cutting through it. Separate the two sides and remove the pit from the center. Scoop out the avocado meat, but avoid the bruised or brown spots. Place it in a medium-sized bowl. Continue with all avocados until done.
2. Roll each lime back and forth against the counter or cutting board a few times. Cut in half and squeeze the juice on to the avocado meat. This will keep it from turning brown at its usual speed.
3. Add the cilantro to the bowl.
4. Cut the serano pepper lengthwise in half. Remove the seeds and continue to slice it in strips. Then chop the strips finely. Remember, when cooking with hot peppers, it is important to wash your hands frequently and not to touch your eyes. As spicy as the peppers feel in your mouth, they are even hotter if they come in contact with your eyes.
5. Dice the tomato finely and add it to the bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the ingredients in the bowl.
6. Stir in the chopped onion with a fork. Gently, but decidedly, blend the ingredients. Press the avocado against the side of the bowl to mash some of the pieces. The end result should be smooth, but with a varied texture that includes some avocado chunks.
7. Serve with warm tortilla chips.