By Amelia Levin
On Sept. 16, 1820, just a few weeks after Spain withdrew from colonial Mexico after an 11-year war, a priest named Father Hidalgo from a pro-independence group stood in a town square and shouted out the “Grito de Dolores” calling for the end of Spanish rule, for racial equality and for redistribution of land.
“Every year we carry on the tradition with someone screaming about independence in town squares the same way,” says ACF Chef Alejandra Kauachi, founder of Mexico Lindo Cooking, a cooking school primarily for tourists in Cancun. “And then at midnight, it becomes the biggest party and we eat like crazy.”
Commonly confused with Cinco de Mayo in May, Mexican Independence Day is more similar to the Fourth of July in the U.S. and has been celebrated for centuries — the same traditions and foods year after year. The celebration can sometimes continue for days; in the U.S., National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Chef Kauachi, who presented at the 2023 ACF National Convention in New Orleans this summer, shares with us her three must-have dishes on this special day. They’re also classic dishes that she teaches at her cooking school (classes are always followed with a feast and tequila), and ones that showcase the colors of the Mexican flag: red, white and green.
Mexicans (in Mexico and in the U.S.) enjoy this spicy soup (click here for the recipe) with pork, chiles and lime “whenever we’re sick or sad,” Chef Kauachi says, but also when celebrating. “It’s the national dish for the Mexican Independence Day party, at least in Central Mexico,” she says. First, she makes a salsa by rehydrating dried guajillo and ancho chiles and blending them with roasted tomato, onion and garlic, along with oregano. This becomes the base of the broth that’s simmered with water and cut up pieces of pork shoulder or leg added. “You can add the bones, too, and even the [pig] head for more flavor,” says Chef Kauachi. After about an hour and a half, the broth with the meat is served in big bowls with a garnish of fresh shredded lettuce, chopped raw onion, more fresh and/or dried oregano, crushed chili powder, limes or lime juice, a little chopped radish, a dollop of crema and a crispy tostada.
Flautas (click here for Chef Kauachi’s recipe) are just one of many antojitos (small plates or appetizers) enjoyed during Mexican Independence Day and other celebrations and gatherings. “I usually make them with pulled beef like flank steak, or pulled chicken or chicken tinga cooked with tomato, onion and chipotle,” says Chef Kauachi, who spreads the meat in a thin layer on a large tortilla that she then rolls up, secures with a toothpick, deep fries and serves in groups of three on a plate with a bright and refreshing salsa verde (click here for Chef Kauachi’s recipe) made by simply blending raw tomatillos with onion, garlic, serrano chile and cilantro. A sprinkling of cotija cheese and dab of crema top it all off. Chef Kauachi also serves the chicken tinga on a flat, fried tostada with the same salsa and toppings, plus refried beans.
This dish (click here for the recipe) is essentially a roasted and skinned poblano pepper stuffed with picadillo (chopped pork or ground beef cooked with tomatoes, dried fruits and nuts) with a creamy walnut-based sauce. “I like to use raisins, almonds, apples, peaches and sometimes plantain or banana,” says Chef Kauachi. “It’s a salty and sweet combination. The story goes that a nun created this dish in Puebla for the first president after the Independence War because the dish had all the colors of the flag.” The green of the poblano pepper combines with the light-colored walnut cream sauce (a blend of walnuts cooked with cream and a bit of sherry liqueur) and the red pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top. “It’s also a seasonal dish because pomegranate is most plentiful in September in Mexico,” Chef Kauachi says.