Cinco de Mayo, (Spanish: “Fifth of May”) also called the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, is a holiday celebrated in parts of Mexico and the United States in honor of a military victory in 1862 over the French forces of Napoleon III. In the mid-20th-century, Mexican immigrants in the United States began using the celebration of Cinco de Mayo as a way of encouraging pride in their Mexican heritage.
The foods of any culture give us a tangible example of how people lived and developed, and Mexican culture is no exception. Mexican-inspired foods are popular around the world because of fresh ingredients and flavors, and maybe the most iconic typical Mexican ingredient that everyone knows is the jalapeño pepper.
Jalapeño peppers are the ideal ambassador for Mexican cuisine. Master the jalapeño and you can instantly add some otherworldly dishes to your kitchen repertoire.
Small, unassuming, and commonplace, jalapeños are actually anything but. They’ve been included as food on the U.S. space shuttle, they’re the “state pepper” of Texas and are the “secret” ingredient in the internationally popular Sriracha sauce.
The secret to the popularity of jalapeños may lie in their hot but tolerable (and often irresistible) chile pepper kick. That heat is also easy to manipulate in recipes: since almost all of the capsaicin and pungency-causing compounds are in the white “veins” and seeds inside the peppers, all you have to do is remove those, and the spiciness lessens significantly.
Capsaicin is the active component in all chili peppers that gives them their distinctive heat and spiciness. It’s the “ingredient” that is most responsible for the unique flavor of Mexican cuisine. Getting the heat level to your liking is one of the keys to real authentic Mexican food. Basically, everybody’s taste buds are different; pleasantly mild to one person can taste nuclear to the next. By manipulating how much capsaicin makes its way into the final dish, you’ll be able to find the appropriate heat level for your taste buds.
Put this into practice and make an easy Tomato-Jalapeno Salsa that will blow store-bought salsa out of the water.
- 3 tomatoes
- 1 jalapeno -- (Buy peppers that are green and taut. If they are wrinkled or mushy, they’re past their prime.)
- 1/2 onion
- 1 garlic clove
Start by roasting the tomatoes in a 400F oven for 20-25 minutes.
Add these to a blender along with the 1/2 onion, single garlic clove, and only 1/4 of the jalapeno.
Pulse blend and take a taste. How’s the heat level? Most people will say not enough, if so then add another 1/4 jalapeno. Eventually, you will know more or less how much to add to reach your desired level of spice.
An excellent example of achieving the right amount of spiciness is found in Bellisari’s Blistered Jalapeno & Fig spread. The lush sweetness of figs is balanced by the subtle hint of heat from the blistered jalapeños, creating an aromatic bouquet of flavors. Although delicious as a condiment on a grilled turkey panini with brie cheese and mixed greens, it’s just as good simply paired with cream cheese on a cracker.
One reviewer said, “It's got a nice sweet flavor and just a little bit of heat afterwards, but not enough to make you go running for water.”
If you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo today, add something with jalapeños to your menu to bring in an authentic Mexican flavor. Feliz Cinco de Mayo from all of us at Bellisari’s!