Early spring is the perfect time for a party. And Cinco de Mayo—the May fifth celebration of Mexico’s victory over the French in 1862—is the perfect occasion. Start with decorations. String chili pepper lights around the dining area, arrange small cactus in clay pots, and hang a piñata in the seating area (you’ll find them in party stores or online at Amazon.com). Skip the disposable dishes, and invest in an inexpensive set of plates, bowls, and napkins in bright, festive colors; check your local thrift shop or second-hand store for cheap finds. For background music, check iTunes for a variety of mariachi or other selections.
And keep the menu simple. Start with chips, guacamole, salsa and dips, and a selection of easy appetizers such as taquitos and mini-burritos. Or set out a fresh green salad tossed with black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, jicama, and avocado cubes. Follow with easy cheese enchiladas or a build-your-own taco bar. For beverages, serve margaritas, with or without alcohol, and sparkling water laced with mango or pineapple juice. Then finish with ice cream topped with cinnamon-scented chocolate sauce, crunchy cookies, and fresh fruit.
Most important, keep food prep easy, so you can enjoy the celebration. Start with these easy selections:
Set out a variety of chips, dips, and salsa in brightly colored bowls. Store-bought dips make entertaining easy; look for guacamole spice blends to speed up prep time. For quick-and-easy appetizers, check out the freezer at your local grocery store for heat-and-eat Mexican tidbits.
Follow your starters with a fresh green salad scattered with spicy additions. Try cubes of avocado, red and yellow pepper strips, frozen and thawed corn, black beans, diced tomatoes, and chunks of jicama. For dressing, combine high-quality mayonnaise with a few chipotle peppers and apple cider vinegar to taste, and whirl in a blender until smooth. Or look for bottled dressings with a spicy or garlicky kick. Serve with a variety of warm tortillas on the side.
Make a festive DIY taco bar the center of your Cinco de Mayo celebration. Arrange blue and yellow corn taco shells on a platter, and set out bowls of fillings and toppings: shrimp or ground turkey sautéed with jalapeno peppers and taco seasoning mix, black beans warmed with taco sauce, shredded cheese, chopped lettuce, scallions, avocado cubes, grilled peppers, salsa, and lime wedges. Then invite guests to assemble their own tacos for a festive and filling meal. (Or try our vegan Grilled Portobello Tacos with Salsa Verde recipe below.)
Offer this meat-free favorite at your fiesta: dip corn tortillas (microwave them for 30 seconds to soften) in enchilada sauce and roll them around shredded cheese—try a combination of cheddar and Monterey Jack—spread a layer of sauce in a 9x13 pan, arrange tortillas in the pan seam side down, and top with more sauce. Bake 350°F for 15 minutes, or until cheese melts, and serve with chopped cilantro, scallions, sour cream, and chopped tomatoes for topping and black beans and rice on the side.
Finish your meal with a simple dessert that plays on traditional Mexican flavors. Start with ice cream—try dulce de leche, coconut, or coffee—and top it with warm chocolate syrup laced with cinnamon.
Serve with crunchy cookies on the side and slices of fresh mango and papaya.