Here’s the deal. Today is Cinco de Mayo. Having grown up in California and raised on avocados and Baja cuisine I’m compelled to celebrate our Southern neighbor.

Ah, but now I live on the other side of the country. And while today is Cinco de Mayo it’s also Thursday. So my bright idea was to invite a crew of people over for some Mexican food Friday evening. The only problem is what lies between now and the guests’ arrival time: work, 2 soccer practices tonight, riding lesson tomorrow, a work deadline in the afternoon and…when exactly was I going to cook for this crew?

Spice Sherpa you’re a fool! Why aren’t you cooking instead of writing!? The answer, my friend, is because I’m not worried. My time-pressed solution? Keep it easy. Keep it spiced.

The menu won’t be all that different from a simple week night dinner. I’m just putting the Mexican flair on everything. Yes, I could pick out pre-orchestrated Mexican dishes. After all, there are thousands of recipes online. But I’d rather make it up so let’s open up the spice cupboard.  There are 5 spices that are saving the day. Here they are and what I’m doing with them.

  1. Cumin.
  2. Cinnamon.
  3. Oregano.
  4. Coriander.
  5. Chili powder.

Technically not a spice, but limes will be working their way into everything. Ought to mention that salt and pepper are also invited but they aren’t the stars here.

So what am I doing with these spices? Glad you asked.

First some mis-en-place details. The cumin and coriander are in seed form. These seeds will be dry roasted (anyone can do this, read how) then ground in a spice grinder. That changes everything about their flavor. The oregano is a combination of dried and fresh. I’m using ancho and cayenne chili powders.

Now the menu:

Grilled Chicken.

I’m making the 5 minute Spanish Everything Sauce.(Quite the cinco theme going here.) This sauce uses the chili powder, cumin, and oregano. There are few other ingredients, olive oil, lime juice…read it. It’s about as complicated as a bowl of cereal. The chicken is cooked in a smoker grill called the Big Green Egg.

Roasted vegetables.

Bite sized pieces of mushrooms, sweet potato, red onion, and carrots covered in a mixture of olive oil cumin, oregano, chili powder, and a sprinkling of brown sugar.

Black beans and rice.

Black beans are more Caribbean but I don’t care, they’re just too good not to serve. After soaking I cook these for about 5 hours mixed with chili powder, cinnamon, salt and a few bits of pure dark chocolate.

Mr. Spice Sherpa is in charge of the rice. My guess it will be a traditional Mexican rice dish with tomatoes giving the rice the bulk of its flavor and color.


These will be served warm. Guests will plop what they wish into the tortilla and enjoy.

Cheesecake and ganache.

My original plan was to make basic Mexican chocolate ice-cream. But it’s been a cold spring and ice-cream just doesn’t fit yet. So I’m taking the cinnamon and chili powder from the ice-cream and incorporating it into the cheesecake. Not the cheesecake itself but the ganache topping. I prefer the ancho in this case because the chili is warm but not hot, perfect when kids are part of the crowd.

And the music!

My favorite Cinco de Mayo tunes are on the cd Bossa Cuca Nova; a collection of classic Latin jazz. These are some pretty hot sounds and add spice of a different sort to your space. (Wink. Wink.)

There you have it. A handful of spices applied to some pretty basic items to create Cinco de Mayo flair. Not bad for a dinner party prepared on a whim. But you know that’s the whole idea–delicious, easy and fun. What are your plans?