Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for “May 5th” or literally “Five of May,” is a Mexican celebration held on the 5th of May annually. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken to be Mexico’s Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16th.
In actuality, Cinco de Mayo has its roots in the French occupation of Mexico, which took place in the aftermath of the Mexican–American War of 1846–48 and the 1858–61 Reform War. These wars left the Mexican Treasury nearly bankrupt, and on July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for two years. France, at the time ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to establish a Latin empire in Mexico that would favor French interests, the Second Mexican Empire.
May 5th is the date observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. The victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and the Mexican people at large, as the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French army, then considered “the premier army in the world. On May 9, 1862, President Juárez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday regarded as “Battle of Puebla Day” or “Battle of Cinco de Mayo”.
Cinco de Mayo Today
Today, the commemoration of the battle is not observed as a national holiday in Mexico, however, all public schools are closed nationwide in Mexico on May 5. The day is an official holiday in the State of Puebla, where the Battle took place, and also a full holiday in the neighboring State of Veracruz. Events tied to Cinco de Mayo also occur outside Mexico, as in the United States, where celebrations emphasize Mexican cuisine, culture and music.
Of course, in California we have plenty of Cinco de May celebrations and I’m creating a Latino dish today. The two areas in Mexico that Cinco de Mayo plays a significant impact on to this day also enjoy plantains for its many benefits. In Veracruz, because of its strong Afro-Caribbean culinary roots, plantains are used to make dough for empanadas and for delicious black-bean filled croquettes, as well as a variety of fritters. And all over Mexico, fried plantains are served over white rice in a typical sopa seca (“dry soup”) comida course. Fried plantains are also a common dessert food, sold in the street at night from carts and at virtually every fair or carnival, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, and sometimes gilding the lily with chocolate sprinkles or powdered chocolate. In Central and Southern Mexico, especially in Puebla, plantains are an integral part of the mole known as manchamanteles, or “tablecloth stainer.”
I have some plantains which have started to get dark, so that means they are a bit more on the sweeter side and perfect for the way they may cook them in Mexico for desert. Some parts of the Latino and Caribbean world enjoy a twice fried version called tostones, which they eat salty like chips of fries. For this Cinco de Mayo, I have created a fusion of version of sweet tostones with all the flavors of sweet platanos fritos. I call it Tostones Dulce (Spanish for Sweet Tostones) or Cinnamon Sugar Twice Fried Plantains.
Cinnamon Sugar Twice Fried Plantains (Tostones Dulce)
2 green plantains
1-2 cups vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of cinnamon sugar
1 teaspoon powder sugar
1. Peel the plantains by making a vertical cut through the skin and peeling it back with your hands or the edge of a spoon.
2. Slice the plantains into 1-inch thick pieces. Toss the pieces in a bowl with cinnamon sugar.
3. Heat a layer of oil in a heavy bottomed pan.
4. Fry the plantains in batches. When the plantains are starting to turn light golden brown, remove from the oil and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.
5. Smash each piece with the back of a wooden spoon – this gives you a flatter shape with rougher edges.
6. Return to the frying pan and fry for an additional 4-5 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Transfer back to a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil.
7. Sprinkle with powder sugar and serve immediately.