In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is mostly seen as an excuse to drink margaritas and Mexican beer and eat lots of tacos, burritos, and other Mexican fare. What’s often overlooked (besides the actual significance of the holiday) is the fact that it’s also finally spring, but that’s worth celebrating too. So why not combine fresh seasonal ingredients with Mexican and Tex-Mex traditions in honor of both occasions?
When you think of Mexican (or Tex-Mex) food, chances are you go straight to things like meat-filled tacos, fajitas, or burritos, and if vegetables enter the equation, they’re most likely in the form of grilled peppers and onions and salsa. If you think vegetarian Mexican or Tex-Mex, your mind probably primarily conjures up rice, cheese, and beans, maybe guacamole. All of these are fantastic, of course, but there are far more interesting options for meatless Cinco de Mayo meals. While many aren’t what you’d call traditional, that’s no longer a knock on a dish, as long as it tastes good. And these particular recipes all highlight fresh spring produce to make the most of both the change of seasons and Cinco de Mayo.
Those who love fresh spring artichokes know it’s kind of a process to prepare them, but also that it’s totally worth it. For everyone else, frozen artichokes are an easier option, and still taste good. For an interesting appetizer, you could try them in a Mexican spin on artichoke dip, but if you’re looking for a main course, these creamy vegetarian enchiladas with spinach and poblano sauce fit the bill. Get the recipe.
Chipotle asparagus quesadillas (depicted in the lead image of this piece) make a great main course, but if you’re just looking for a side, asparagus excels again. If you don’t want to fire up your grill just yet, you can roast the asparagus instead, then top it with the same ingredients that make elotes (Mexican street corn) sparkle, or sauce it with pasilla chiles and silky Mexican crema for something a little more elegant. Either preparation is a great excuse to buy even more bundles of green spears from the market. Get the recipe.
Carrots: Vegetarian Carrot Enchilada Bake
Carrots seem to transcend seasons since we can get them all year and they generally always taste good, but in spring, they’re especially sweet. A great Mexican-inspired way to make them is to roast them with strips of jalapeño, cumin, and garlic, with lime juice spritzed on at the end, or you can make Mexican pickled carrots to go on tacos. If you’d rather take a different tack, try this vegetable-packed enchilada bake based on spiralized carrots instead of tortillas—which also happens to make it gluten-free. Get the recipe.
Fava Beans: Mexican Fava Bean Soup
Like artichokes, fresh fava beans in their natural state require a bit of work to prepare, but those who love them believe it’s well worth the effort. This is actually a more traditional Mexican dish (Sopa de Habas), with a recado base—pureed tomatoes, garlic, and onions that are cooked down before the beans are added. You can use dried favas when fresh aren’t in season, or if you simply can’t find them (or commit to peeling individual beans, which is certainly understandable). Get the recipe.
Leeks: Strawberry Leek Quesadillas
May marks the end of peak leek season, but honestly, they’re good all year long. There is a traditional Mexican leek soup called sopa de poro y papa, but who can say no to a quesadilla? This uncommonly delicious versions pairs sauteed leeks and strawberries with plenty of cheese—in this case, goat cheese and mozzarella, but you can play around with different types. Get the recipe.
Morel mushrooms are a highly prized, prime spring ingredient, and would work in place of portobellos in our Mushroom and Chile Tacos or instead of button mushrooms in these meaty-yet-meatless arepas. But really, any kind of fungi you can find will be delicious. Get the recipe.
Peas: Spring Pea Guacamole
Remember how people went nuts (and mostly not in a good way) about green peas in guacamole a few years back? That furor may have died down since then, but here’s a potentially divisive dish for your Cinco de Mayo dinner: guacamole made entirely from fresh spring peas! You’re likely to enjoy the clean, green, slightly sweet taste even if you’re an avowed avocado lover. Get the recipe.
Potatoes are another food we take for granted, since they’re always in abundance, but spring is the time for baby new potatoes, which you can use anywhere you would their larger relatives, like in potato adobo tamales. Or, mix them into rajas, strips of roasted poblano pepper stewed in cream. If they’re really petite, you can simply slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, rather than chopping them into smaller pieces. Get the recipe.
Rhubarb: Strawberry Rhubarb Margarita
Tart rhubarb is often baked into pies and cobblers or cooked down into preserves, but don’t stop there. Try making strawberry rhubarb salsa (or chipotle rhubarb salsa) for dipping chips, and make these refreshingly puckery margaritas too, because after all, you need something to drink with all this food. Get the recipe.
Spinach: Green Mexican Rice
Like carrots, spinach never goes out of style (or disappears from grocery store shelves), but it’s more tender and fresh in the spring. Use it raw in salads to make the most of it, but if you have a bumper crop, try cooking it down for healthy and delicious green rice. As is so often the case, frozen spinach will also work. Get the recipe.
Spring Onions: Cebollitas (Grilled Spring Onions)
While almost everyone uses the terms scallions and spring onions interchangeably, they’re actually not quite the same. Spring onions have larger bulbs and tougher green parts, but if you can’t find them, you can grill scallions in this manner too (the larger, the better in this case). While they’re an especially great complement to grilled meats, there’s almost nothing they don’t taste good with. Try them on scrambled egg and potato tacos, or tucked into cheese quesadillas. Get the recipe.
Header image courtesy of Vegetarian Times.