This weekend is Cinco de Mayo, a day that many celebrate Mexican culture and heritage. In this way, it shares many similarities with St. Patrick’s Day. A holiday brought to this country by a wave of immigrants that grew into a celebration of those people. Just like St. Patrick’s Day, there are also many misconceptions and myths about Cinco de Mayo.

As we celebrate the heritage of more than 36 million Americans and the millions more who trace their lineage to our southern neighbor, we’ll learn more about what Cinco de Mayo is really about.

What is Cinco de Mayo?

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spain. It has nothing to do with them even becoming an independent country. In fact, Cinco de Mayo is a bigger celebration in the United States than it is in Mexico. It’s not even that big of a deal for most Mexicans, where students get the day off from school, but that’s about it. Except, of course, in Puebla, where the battle took place.

Wait, so Cinco de Mayo is about a single battle? Was it like the big battle in their war of independence?

The Battle of Puebla was between the French and the independent Mexican forces led by Ignacio Zaragoza on May 5, 1862. At this point, the general consensus was that the French army was the strongest military in the world. Suffice to say, the Mexican army was a massive underdog.

What does this have to do with the United States? At the time, Mexico was something of a client-state of France, which allowed France to use it as a military base. Why would they want to do that? Because the Civil War was raging, and the Confederacy were making strong ovations for an alliance. If France had a strong foothold in Mexico, they could support the Confederacy. This would change the dynamics of the war forever. The Confederates had won several early victories, and the Battle of Gettysburg was still over a year away. It looked like the South could win the war, especially with the help of the French.

By defeating the French at Puebla, the Mexican army forced the French to regroup. During this period, the Union army won some victories of their own. This put off French support of the Confederacy, and, in a sense, saved the Union. The victory for the Mexican troops was short-lived, however, as the French army would later take control of the country. Cinco de Mayo became a symbol of resistance until 1867 when Mexican nationals took their country back with a little American help.

Mole Poblano

To celebrate, we found a popular dish that’s actually a traditional Mexican recipe. When we think of Mexican food, we’re usually thinking of Tex-Mex, an American mixture of Texan and Mexican cuisines. However, one dish that is undeniably, quintessentially traditional Mexican is mole poblano. Often called Mexico’s national dish, mole poblano is a spicy, savory dish with a traditional mole, a rich chocolatey sauce. The dish is at least 300 years old, though it can trace its origins to the Aztecs.

A mole combines a large ingredient list to create layers of flavor that blend together masterfully. That said, it can take a while or be difficult to make for beginners. To properly respect this dish, we sought a great recipe from someone who specializes in this type of cooking. That’s especially important for a dish with as much cultural significance as mole poblano. Luckily, we found one at Mexico in My Kitchen by Mely Martinez. We’ll include the ingredient list below, so you know what to buy. Go check out Mexico in My Kitchen to learn how to make the dish. Trust us, it’s worth it.

Recipe

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Mole Poblano

For the Chicken

  • 1 large chicken, cut into pieces, or 3 bone-in chicken breasts
  • 8 cups of water
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Salt to taste

For the Mole Sauce

  • 6 mulato peppers
  • 4 ancho peppers
  • 6 pasilla peppers
  • 1 tbsp of pepper seeds, in reserve
  • 6 whole cloves
  • ½ tsp of black peppercorn
  • ¼ tsp of coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp of anise seeds
  • ¾ inch of Mexican cinnamon stick
  • ½ cup of raisins
  • 1/3 cup of unskinned almonds
  • 1/3 cup of peanuts
  • 1 corn tortilla
  • 3 small slices of French bread
  • 1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds
  • ½ small white onion, sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, roasted
  • 3 cloves of garlic, roasted
  • ½ large ripe, dark-skinned plantain, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 tablet of Mexican drinking chocolate
  • Reserved broth from cooking the chicken
  • ½ cup of oil or lard
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Head over to Mexico in My Kitchen’s How to Make Mole Poblano for directions.