Like so many people, I love a good party. That’s true whether I’m throwing it, cooking for it or attending it. And Cinco de Mayo is a perfect time to do all three.
The May 5 holiday marks an important military victory 152 years ago in Mexico’s fight for independence. Today, though, Cinco de Mayo is more widely celebrated across the U.S. than in its homeland. Here, people of Mexican descent observe the holiday as an occasion to take special pride in their heritage. And everyone, regardless of their ancestry, feels Mexican for the day and enjoys the party, which almost always includes generous spreads of robust food and a seemingly endless flow of beer and cocktails fortified with tequila or mescal.
Too often, that menu can result in a food-and-drink hangover — something you definitely don’t want with Cinco de Mayo falling on a Monday this year! But there is a way to enjoy all the lively fun of Cinco de Mayo without any unhealthy after-effects. You can make Mexican food lighter without sacrificing flavor. Consider the tostada, for example: a crispy tortilla (lightly brush it with olive oil and oven-bake it instead of deep-frying) topped with beans, lean poultry, seafood or meat, lettuce and salsa, plus just a little guacamole, low-fat sour cream and cheese. Many other specialties can be made leaner, too, like tortilla soup (for which you’ll find a recipe in my book, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy.
And then there’s ceviche, one of my favorite Mexican specialties. Some people still mistakenly consider this a “raw” seafood dish; but in fact, the fresh fish or shellfish is cooked; only it’s cooked by the acidity of citrus juice, rather than by heat. The result is a burst of clean, lively flavors that satisfy fully without weighing you down.
My recipe for Scallop Ceviche With Jalapeno and Fresh Lime makes a great starting point. It requires, as all ceviches do, that you begin with the finest fresh seafood, bought from a reliable market. If you can’t find great scallops, feel free to substitute fresh shrimp or firm-fleshed mild white fish fillets such as sea bass, grouper or sole. Whatever you buy should have the fresh, clean scent of the sea, with no “off” aromas or discoloration.
Start making your ceviche the evening of quatro de Mayo, May 4, so the seafood has time to marinate fully. Add some oven-baked tortilla chips, if you like, and maybe a glass of crisp white wine, such as one of the great vintages now being produced in Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe (or one of the dry but fruity Austrian Gruner Veltliners that I like), and you’ll be set to enjoy a Cinco de Mayo that you won’t regret on May 6!
SCALLOP CEVICHE WITH JALAPENO AND FRESH LIME
1 pound fresh sea scallops or bay scallops
2/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium-sized jalapeno chile, halved, stemmed, seeded and deveined, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Radicchio or butter lettuce leaves (optional), for serving
Fresh cilantro or Italian parsley leaves, for garnish
With a small, sharp knife, trim any connective tissue from the sides of the scallops. Cut the scallops in into slices 1/4 inch thick.
Put the scallop slices in a glass or stainless-steel bowl. Pour the lime juice over them, and stir gently to coat the scallops thoroughly with the juice. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Before serving, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the garlic cloves, and blanch them in the boiling water for 1 minute to eliminate some of their harshness. Drain the cloves thoroughly, rinse them briefly with cold running water, and then drain them again and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Finely chop the garlic.
Drain all but a tablespoon or so of the lime juice from the scallops, and transfer the scallops to a clean nonreactive bowl. Add the chopped garlic, green onion, tomatoes, jalapeno, olive oil and cilantro to the scallops. Stir thoroughly but gently, and season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper.
If you like, line individual chilled glass cocktail cups or martini glasses or a large serving bowl or platter with radicchio or butter-lettuce leaves. Arrange the scallops in the cups, glasses or bowl, or on the platter. Garnish with cilantro or parsley leaves, and serve immediately.