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Cinco de Mayo dances around again this year

Yes, it is Cinco de Mayo in the Southwest (and everywhere else) and my next-door neighbors began partying last Friday. I started hearing the music when I came out the garage door to walk our dogs.

It does seem incumbent upon us to make a Mexican treat here in Tucson, where the influence of Latin America is so strong. So I thought about tostadas, something easy to make and flexible as far as flavor is concerned. There are always those who love picante, or the flavor of hot peppers, but I am not one of them. So when you have the chance to present something that can be delicious either way, and when it's Cinco de Mayo, why not?

Tostadas are different from tacos in that they are basically a selection of toppings laid on a flat corn tortilla that has not been molded into the typical half-moon shape of a taco-style tortilla. That is the only difference, but I think it makes tostadas easier to eat. You just bite at them flat, like a piece of pizza, instead of cocking your head to one side as almost everyone does to eat tacos. But be that as it may.

What you do to prepare tostada appetizers is simply warm and stack some organic corn tortillas on a serving plate, and then prepare the toppings. One thing you can do is make a salsa, or a combination of several Latin flavors in one relish. Salsa is a subject for much research, but suffice it to say that you can do the following:

Mince one organic white onion very fine;
Grate or mince one clove of fresh organic garlic;
Seed and chop three cups of organic tomatoes or the equivalent of plum or cherry tomatoes;
Mince half a stalk of organic celery;
Mince about half a cup of fresh organic cilantro;
Juice of one fresh organic lemon or lime;
2 Tablespoons of organic extra-virgin olive oil (the best you have).

Combine all these things in a small mixing bowl. Stir them well and taste. Then salt the salsa just a bit, to taste. The salt will not only bring out the flavors, but it will accelerate the process of wilting the vegetables somewhat and combining the juices and tastes.

Some people will add sliced fresh organic jalapeno peppers to salsa, but in my case I would prepare them, sliced very thin and seeded, and place them in a separate bowl to be added to the tostadas by those who want their flavor.

The other two things to have on hand for tostadas is some guacamole, which you can make or buy, and warmed refritos, or refried beans (which are not actually fried at all, by the way). You can buy a can or two of beans, turn them into a small saucepan or microwavable serving bowl, and warm them to spread on the tortillas as the base of each tostada. Don't do it in advance, though, because the beans will make the tortillas soggy.

Shredded yellow cheese (especially a Mexican brand) can also be served to sprinkle on the tostadas as the final layer, and there you have it. A tortilla spread with warm refritos, topped with salsa, guacamole and sliced jalapenos, and sprinkled with shredded Mexican cheese (or with queso fresco, a light white cheese that can be crumbled over the tostadas) will make an appetizer that can go right through the evening and become dinner if the party gets good.

If you are considering the possibility that the party could turn into dinner, then, you might want to saute a package of ground beef with a teaspoon of chili powder and salt to taste, and include this in the potential toppings for your tostadas. That will give them the heft to stand up to an evening. Just make plenty!

The party will get better with sangria, a fruited wine that is very popular in Latin America. You can buy sangria from different vintners nowadays, but I like to buy mine at Cost Plus World Market in Tucson. They sell a brand that comes directly from Spain, but I have forgotten the name. It will be on display there today, I can tell you, and they do have it most of the year as well. Or you could stop by Total Wine and More and see what else is there. I like sangria to be somewhat sparkling (the way I prefer most wine), and you can always ask, or look at the bottle top and see if it has the wire wrap that distinguishes sparkling wines.

Viva el Cinco de Mayo, hermanos!

For more info: I am sometimes asked why I make it a point to italicize the Spanish words (or French, etc.) for my ingredients and/or dishes. It is because I want us to be mindful of the words that came to our language from elsewhere.

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