Since Cinco de Mayo was a Monday night this year I decided that I wanted to forgo a night out for tacos and margaritas and try my hand in the kitchen instead. (I’ve never been a ‘have a drink on a Monday’ kind of girl, lame I know.) My primary source of inspiration was Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless. I’ve made his Chorizo-Potato Tacos with Simple Avocado Salsa and Casserole-style Zucchini Tamal and really enjoyed both recipes, so I knew I could trust him for a special recipe for Cinco de Mayo. I decided on Cornish Game Hens with Apricot-Pine Nut Mole (adapted version of the recipe can also be found here). Since I knew the dish was going to be rich and spicy I decided to pair it with Gourmet’s Cactus, Chayote, and Green-Apple Salad. I’d never cooked with Cornish hens, cactus, or chayote before so I knew this meal was going to be both an adventure and a challenge. However, one of the best things about cooking for yourself (as I did this Cinco de Mayo) is that it’s okay to take a risk because if the meal doesn’t turn out you’re the only one that has to know.
It turned out that gathering the ingredients for the meal was actually more frustrating than making it. First, I had a blonde moment when I’d intended to buy nopales (prickly pear cactus paddles) and instead accidentally bought fresh aloe. There was no sign and I was in a hurry so I assumed it was prickly enough. It wasn’t until I was checking out and the cashier asked me what I was going to do with it that I realized I’d gotten the wrong thing. Regardless, none of my local grocery stores seemed to carry fresh nopales so I had to settle for ‘tender cactus’ in a can. Whole Foods was also out of Cornish Hens so I had to hit a few stores before I found some, which seemed like a lot of effort for a girl that doesn’t normally like poultry.
Thankfully, once I was back in my own kitchen and ready to go, the meal came together easily. Mole does have a fair number of steps, but they are all relatively easy and if you make it the night before (as I did) all you have to do the day of is roast the hens and prepare the salad. Because you’ve got so many ingredients to toast and blend it’s also one of those instances when having a mis en place is worth it.
Overall these dishes were a great way to celebrate the tastes of Mexico on Cinco de Mayo. I’m not sure the salad turned me into a cactus lover, but I’m definitely open minded about using it again in the future.