32 Cinco de Mayo recipes — from margs to mains

While many Americans look forward to Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to enjoy a cold marg and tacos, and often mistake the date for Mexico’s Independence Day, which is Sept. 16, theholiday actually celebrates a great victory in the country’s history, when it defeated France at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

The triumph inspired the Mexican people and, six years later, the French were finally driven out of Mexico for good. Today, in the U.S., the holiday more broadly celebrates Mexican culture as a whole.

So, to pay homage to the rich culture of Mexico, we’re cooking up some mouthwatering recipes from Mexican and Mexican American chefs — including, of course, cold margs and tacos.

Mexican drinks

If you’re not familiar with dragon fruit (also called pitaya), definitely give it a try in this cocktail. It has a flavor that’s reminiscent of kiwi, but what’s truly remarkable about it is its brilliant color. And to take this margarita to the next level, you can rim the glass with salt mixed with crushed dried rose petals.

Let this coconut-lime margarita transport you to the beach: You can taste the salty sea breeze in the rim and munch on toasted sweetened coconut with a sprinkle of lime zest as you sip along a creamy and luscious margarita.

Mexican appetizers and sides

To chef Gabriel Kolofon, his guacamole is more than just a dip — it symbolizes his heritage:

"Once the avocado base of the guacamole is complete, I finish the dish by topping it with fresh cilantro, shredded cotija cheese and homemade pico de gallo to represent the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag," he says. "The colors presented in the Mexican flag have great meaning. The green color signifies hope and prosperity, the white represents peace and the red symbolizes the blood of Mexican heroes."

Summertime Watermelon and Tomatillo Salad by Pati Jinich

This salad hits all the taste buds! It’s sweet from the watermelon, salty from the cheese, spicy from the chile, tart from the lime and tomatillos and refreshing from the mint. It’s an absolute must-try.

Chile-Mango Guacamole by Marcela Valladolid

Even guac purists will fall in love with this sweet and spicy variation. The mango is bright, citrusy and fresh — the perfect foil for creamy, rich avocado. Then, when the chile heat kicks in, the flavor fiesta starts. We promise — you’ll want heaping mounds on every chip.

Guacamole Dulce (Sweet Guacamole) by Juan Pablo Loza

Transform traditional guacamole into dessert with a swirl of passion fruit, fresh mint, sweet coconut and, of course, avocado, blended together with crunchy, refreshing jicama and topped with pomegranate seeds.

This salsa is like a classic salsa verde but with the surprise addition of sweet-tart Granny Smith apples. It has an applesauce-like consistency, which is ideal for entertaining because it can sit out for a while without separating. We like to serve it with tortilla chips, on all types of tacos and over enchiladas.

"Back in my country, Mexican rice is the kind of recipe that you can call comfort food," says Alfredo Oropeza. "This is what I want to cook and eat whenever I’m feeling homesick. As a kid, I used to avoid eating the peas in this dish, but now I love them."

Tacos

Birria de Res by Stephanie Ramos and Cloud Ramos

Birria tacos have exploded in popularity over the last couple of years, and there’s a reason why: It takes a lot of elbow grease. Meat is slow-cooked to tenderness in a chile-based stew, and served up in tacos with the consommé, or broth, on the side for dipping. Every region of Mexico and every family has their own version of birria. This recipe, from sisters Stephanie and Cloud Ramos, includes a family secret that makes it irresistible.

Beer-battered fish tacos get a major flavor upgrade with a homemade creamy slaw and a chipotle, peanut and sesame seed salsa.

Shrimp Tacos ‘Aquí Me Quedo’ by Juan Pablo Loza

The secret to the smokiest, most flavorful guacamole to top these tacos with, according to chef Juan Pablo Loza, is to char your chiles on the grill first.

Grilled Beef Strips with Mint and Cilantro Salsa Verde by Marcela Valladolid

"This recipe reminds me of my hometown of Tijuana," said chef Marcela Valladolid about these flanken-cut beef tacos topped with mint and salsa verde. "I grew up eating this dish; it is one of my favorites. It is a great weekday meal for the family."

Skirt Steak Tacos with Refried Beans and Mexican Rice by Stephanie & Cloud Ramos

The Ramos sisters pack all the flavor into the marinade for these hearty tacos. It’s simple enough to enjoy any night of the week but will always leave you satisfied, like you’ve been treated to a feast.

Ensenada-Style Fish Tacos by Marcela Valladolid

"I love this recipe because it takes me back to the seaside city of Ensenada, where the fish taco was born," says Valladolid.

"I grew up eating (these tacos) in iconic Tijuana restaurant Los Arcos while growing up in Mexico," says Valladolid. "It’s an incredibly simple dish that captures the wonderful flavors of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico, a state that is famous for its creative shrimp preparations."

Pomegranate Pork Tacos with Guacamole and Queso Fresco by Pati Jinich

Pati Jinich cooks boneless pork ribs with pomegranate juice and wine until the meat is super-tender, then shreds the meat and serves it in tacos with guacamole amped up with pomegranate seeds and queso fresco.

Trio of Veggie Tacos on Zucchini Tortillas by Marcela Valladolid

These are the fanciest tacos you will ever lay your eyes on. Serve them with the three different fillings to showcase a variety of vegetables that are distinct yet work so well together. You’ll get an array of flavors: spicy, smoky, vinegary, sweet, savory and fresh!

This taco recipe is packed with Mexican flavors and takes just 15 minutes to make.

Mexican mains

This torta, which comes from Guadalajara, is filled with slow-braised pork carnitas that fall apart and melt into the torta and sit atop of a thin layer of refried beans. Two salsas, one tomato-based and the other made from spicy chile de árbol, allows you to control the level of heat in each torta.

Using this recipe as your guide, you can choose your own tamal adventure. Make sure to invite friends and family to help you cook and eat them. Turn it into a tamalada (tamal party) — spread the masa and spread the love!

"I love this recipe because it reminds me of my grandmother," says Alfredo Oropeza. "She used to cook me a tampiqueña with her unique Mexican red rice (arroz rojo) or tomato pasta (fideo seco) when I was a little kid. Now that I recently moved to Miami, I cook this same dish for my two sons, and they absolutely love it!"

Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini and Poblano Tortas by Pati Jinich

These Mexican sandwiches or tortas (called Chapata de Verduras al Cilantro con Queso Fresco) are easy to make and great for a Cinco de Mayo gathering or any get together. As a plus, they can be made ahead of time.

One-Pot Mexican Steak and Potato Stew with Guajillo Sauce by Pati Jinich

When you want an all-in-one-pot dish, this stew with hearty potatoes and steak has a depth of flavor that develops with guajillo chiles, husked tomatillos and garlic cloves.

Sopa seca translates to "dry soup" in English, but it’s not exactly a soup — it’s more like a moist pasta casserole that’s traditionally made with thin noodles, rice or even thin tortilla strips — and it’s one of the most iconic dishes in Mexico.

Aarón Sánchez’s Seared Salmon with Pumpkin Seed Mole by Aarón Sánchez

It’s uncommon to see most types of seafood served with mole, according to chef Aarón Sánchez, but this dish will change your mind. The real beauty here is that salmon, with its richness and higher fat content, stands up well to this strong, flavorful sauce.

These tinga-style tostadas are topped with shredded chicken but feel free to substitute pork, beef or any other ingredient you prefer. Save extra time by using store-bought rotisserie chicken.

Mexican Shrimp, Mango and Avocado Rolls by Pati Jinich

These colorful rolls (called Rollos de Camarones al Ajillo, Mango y Aguacate) are a delicious, casual and festive party food for any entertaining occasion.

Lightly frying cooked penne in oil creates a slightly crispy texture that keeps the pasta from becoming mushy in this Mexican-inspired chicken casserole that’s made with smoky chipotle sauce and lots of melted cheese.

Mexican desserts

Mango Upside-Down Cake by Marcela Valladolid

Soft, tender and delicate, this upside down cake with a tropical spin is perfect with a nice cup of tea or a cappuccino after a delicious meal (or anytime of day, really).

Elevate plain chocolate brownies with a hint of hot, smoky chipotle powder and dash of cinnamon. It’s like Mexican hot chocolate you can slice through with a fork.

Pumpkin (Calabaza en Tacha) Cheesecake by Marcela Valladolid

Conclude your celebration with this incredible cheesecake that perfectly balances sweet, slightly savory and creamy in every bite. Topped with pumpkin-brown sugar brittle, it’s the sweetest way to salute the Mexican holiday.

Polvorones (Mexican Wedding Cookies) by Natalie Vazquez

"Growing up in small town in Mexico, it was a special occasion for my mom and her siblings to enjoy these cookies," says NBC Page Natalie Vazquez. "My grandmother and great-grandmother used the only ingredients they had available, making this recipe easy and accessible for anyone to make. Though simple, they remind my mom of her upbringing and spending time with family."