Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration of Mexican independence; that day is actually Sept. 16. Rather, Cinco de Mayo is the commemoration of the Mexican army’s hard-fought victory over Napoleon III’s French forces on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla. Still, it’s a wonderful day for celebration, and a great way to do that is to cook up a delicious, Mexican-inspired feast.
My favorite festive yet budget-friendly menu is below. Be sure to ask guests to bring beer, soft drinks, chips, salsa and guacamole.
Click to read more about hosting a holiday feast without blowing your budget.
Fresh fruits and juices are much cheaper than margarita mix, and, in my opinion, much more delicious. For each margarita, mix 1½ ounces of the best cheap tequila you can find (Cuervo is a good place to start) with freshly squeezed lime juice (about one lime per margarita), plus 1-2 tablespoons (as desired) orange juice for sweetness. Shake over ice to chill, or blend with ice for a blended margarita. Salted rims are optional. (I usually skip them but keep salt in a bowl on hand for those who like it.)
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I’m a big taco fan (who isn’t?), and they are indeed a very budget-friendly entrée if you plan them right. Here’s how I like to do it:
Buy corn tortillas (3-4 tortillas per person) or crunchy taco shells. To heat corn tortillas, stack and wrap them in aluminum foil, and place them in a warm oven (it’s fine to just stick them in the oven while you use it to cook other items). To heat crunchy taco shells, line them on an ungreased baking sheet and heat in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, just before serving.
Choose 2-3 simple taco fillings (at least one vegetarian option, depending on your guests’ preferences).
- grilled chicken thighs or pork
- sautéed ground beef seasoned with garlic, salt, cumin and chili powder (skip the taco seasoning packets)
- roasted firm white fish
- roasted cauliflower
- roasted white or sweet potatoes with onions and garlic
- seared plantains
- roasted or sautéed mushrooms
Serve the tacos with any or all of the following: fresh salsa, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce, shredded lettuce and cheese.
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Here’s my favorite simple recipe for Mexican rice (also known as Spanish rice):
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola
- 1 cup dry long-grain white rice
- 1 8-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Heat oil in a medium (5-quart) pot over medium-high heat. Add the rice.
- Sauté the rice, stirring constantly for several minutes, until it begins to brown slightly.
- Reduce heat to low, then pour in 2 cups of water and the crushed tomatoes. Stir well.
- Stir in the chili powder, minced garlic and salt.
- Turn heat back up to medium-high, bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to low and cover.
- Simmer for 20 minutes or until all water has been absorbed.
- Turn off heat, fluff rice with a fork and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes before serving.
My preference is to make a big pot of garlicky pinto or black beans and leave them whole, rather than refrying them. I like to cook about ¼ cup dried beans per person (this will yield ½ cup to 2/3 cup cooked beans per person). Cooking dried beans is not only more delicious than reheating canned ones, but it’s also much cheaper. Soak the beans overnight in cold water (this helps them cook faster and also makes them easier to digest), drain them, then add them to a pot with enough water to cover. Add a few whole cloves of garlic and a bay leaf or two. (If you don’t have bay leaves, don’t worry, you can leave them out.) Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the beans turn al dente (depending on the amount you are cooking, this can take between 45 minutes and 2 hours), then add salt to taste. Cook for 10-20 minutes longer, just until their interiors turn creamy. Serve the beans hot in their cooking liquid with a slotted spoon for people to ladle servings onto their plates.
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Churros are a delicious and classic Mexican dessert, but shaping and deep-frying them can be messy and a lot of work. Rather than make churros from scratch, I like to make Genius Kitchen’s easy Churro Cupcakes. They’re full of fabulous cinnamon flavor, and come together quickly and easily. To mimic the classic flavors of churros with piping hot chocolate, I love to give these a drizzle of melted chocolate or hot fudge just before serving.
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