20 Easy Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Home
You may not be going to your favorite Mexican restaurant, but the fun hasn't been canceled!
The Cinco de Mayo holiday gets much more attention here than it does in Mexico. The fifth of May date commemorates the country’s victory in an underdog battle, but it only became a big deal in the U.S. after a clever beer company’s marketing campaign. Once I learned our over-the-top celebration isn’t exactly authentic, I stopped worrying about getting my Cinco de Mayo recipes just right. This attitude comes in especially handy during a quarantine.
That said, I’m always happy to have an excuse to eat Mexican food. And because going out ain’t happening this year (nor will I host a big Cinco de Mayo party), I’m cooking dinner myself. Since the holiday is pretty unofficial, there aren’t exactly traditional Cinco de Mayo foods. Which gives us home cooks the freedom to work with what we have.
Luckily, many of the elements used in Mexican cuisine are probably in your pantry right now. Think canned beans and tomatoes, canned green chiles and enchilada sauce, frozen or canned corn, salsa, olives, cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, and tortillas. If you have any or all of those ingredients, your Cinco de Mayo plans are easy. Guacamole, though, may have to wait for another time unless you have a stash of ripening avocados in your pantry or a trip to the store planned soon.
Whether you want to go all the way with a full Mexican dinner or just serve a platter of cheesy nachos (or even a Mexican cocktail), you’ve got options. To give you some Cinco de Mayo food ideas, I’ve gathered a bunch of easily doable Mexican recipes, all of which star those pantry items I mentioned. Many of them work for vegetarian, gluten-free, and even vegan diets, too.
If you want to take the really easy route, make up a big ol’ tray of nachos for dinner. While you may think of them as appetizers, these are filling enough for dinner. The options range from super-simple to just a little bit complicated.
Ultimate Easy Nachos
Short of just dumping some cheese on a pile of chips, this is the easiest possible recipe for nachos — and because it calls for things like canned refried beans and sliced olives, it’s perfect for quarantine living. Once you dig in, though, you’ll be saying, “Quarantine who?”
Sheet Pan Chicken and Black Bean Nachos
Baked tortilla chips make these slightly less indulgent than normal, but you really won’t care. (And of course, if you only have fried chips, go for it!) This recipe, too, uses plenty of canned ingredients, along with cooked chicken — perfect for using up leftovers.
Sheet Pan Nachos
This option takes a teeny bit more effort, since you’re cooking up some ground meat (beef, chicken, or pork) and taco seasonings first. Pile that onto a sheet pan full of chips, load it up with canned black beans, canned or frozen corn, and cheese, and bake.
Ultimate Vegan Nachos
I admit, these take some work — but that’s only because you can’t just sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Making nacho “cheese” sauce adds about 20 minutes to your cooking time, but it’s so worth it. The recipe also includes instructions for homemade refried beans, but if you’ve got some in a can, I say go for it.
Salsas and sides
Maybe you don’t have the ingredients you need for a full Cinco de Mayo dinner. Add any of these recipes to your regular meal for a taste of Mexico.
Chipotle Pantry Salsa
It has the word “pantry” in the name! This quick salsa recipe is made for times like these. It gets its heat from smoky canned chipotles in adobo, and the tomatoes are canned, too. All you need are chips.
I’ll bet you have everything you need for this one in your pantry, too: rice, obviously, as well as canned tomato sauce, spices, and chicken broth. Onion and jalapeño add some bite, but if you don’t have a chili this’ll still be yummy.
Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)
Toasting frozen corn kernels in a cast-iron skillet gives them a char reminiscent of grilling, which is the traditional way to prepare this recipe. Then you stir in mayo and chili powder, a squeeze of lime juice, and a handful of other common ingredients, and you’ve got a creamy, spicy, cheesy way to liven up an ordinary dinner.
Easy Refried Beans
Canned pinto beans mean this’ll be on your table in just 20 minutes. And other than onion, garlic, and a squeeze of lime juice, the remaining ingredients all come from your pantry. I have a feeling you’ll be making these beans long after we leave quarantine.
Tacos and tostadas
Here’s a simple fact: Tacos make people happy. We all need to grab happiness wherever we can find it now, so…
Ground Beef Tacos
Unless you are of Mexican heritage, I guarantee you grew up eating tacos exactly like this. Except here the spice mixture is homemade, not from a packet, and the tortillas are freshly fried in a touch of oil rather than coming pre-shaped in a box. You might not think that makes much difference, but hoo-boy does it ever.
Chicken Tinga Tacos
Chicken Tinga is my go-to order at our local Mexican restaurant. To make it, you simmer shredded chicken in a tomato-chipotle sauce. Really, it’s so easy I have no excuse for limiting myself to restaurant dining. Once the chicken has absorbed the flavors of the sauce, you tuck some inside warm tortillas; top with cheese, diced onions, and cilantro; and you have yourself some very satisfying chicken tacos.
Easy Tacos Al Pastor
In this classic taco, pork luxuriates in a marinade of spices, chipotle peppers, and pineapple juice before you cook it. This particular recipe gives you options for grilling outdoors or on the stovetop, or broiling in the oven. The pork gets nice crispy edges, then nestles inside tortillas along with grilled (canned) pineapple and onion chunks.
Tostadas are reminiscent of tacos, with one big difference: Instead of being shaped like a taco shell, the tortillas are fried flat. This lets you pile on your other ingredients, for a much larger filling-to-tortilla ratio. Here, tostadas get a layer of canned refried beans and cheese before you top it with spiced-up frozen shrimp and an easy homemade salsa.
A few weeks ago I taught you how to turn almost anything into enchiladas, so you may have the basic idea already. These recipes are all spinoffs from the original. Let’s call them enchilada-adjacent.
4-Ingredient Healthy Chicken Enchilada Casserole
We’ve already established how much I love enchiladas, but sometimes I just don’t feel like taking all those steps. This recipe treats the components of enchiladas as if it were Mexican lasagna, layering everything instead of painstakingly rolling. It’ll be in the oven in minutes.
Enchiladas in 20 minutes? No. But that’s all the time you need to make this clever one-pan adaptation. First you fry tortilla strips in a smidge of oil and remove them from the pan, then you use the same pan to brown and season ground meat, simmering it in enchilada sauce. Finally, stir in the crisp tortilla strips and top the whole pan with cheese. Add some olives and green onions, and dinner’s ready.
Quinoa Enchilada Casserole
Think of this as a lightened version of the classic. Protein- and fiber-packed quinoa replaces the tortillas here, mixed with other pantry items like canned enchilada sauce, green chiles, and black beans, frozen corn, and spices. Top it with a moderate amount of cheese, bake, and you’ve got the spirit of enchiladas with a considerably healthier nutrition facts statement.
Easy Enchilada Cups
“Enchiladas” in a muffin tin! To make them, you pre-bake flour tortillas in the muffin cups to shape them. While they’re baking, use classic enchilada elements like canned sauce, black beans, green chiles, and corn, along with cooked chicken or other protein to make a filling. Fill the cups, top with cheese, and bake until everything’s hot and melty. As the mom of a super-picky eater, I love recipes like this because I can leave out any ingredients he objects to for his portion (oy, such a long list).
Sweets and drinks
A Mexican-inspired dessert or a refreshing drink (with or without an alcoholic spike) would be a really easy way to inject a little Cinco de Mayo into your May 5th.
Paletas are Mexican ice pops, and unlike American ones, which are usually made with juice, they start with whole ingredients and relatively little sugar. In this case, frozen cherries get pureed with just two tablespoons of sweetener, a hit of lemon juice, and some water, then frozen in molds.
Homemade Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
I’m quite sure these are inauthentic, but come on: chocolate cupcakes scented with cinnamon and cayenne, topped with a spicy chocolate frosting? Yes. Yes, please.
Mango Agua Fresca
Aguas frescas are kinda like drinkable paletas. You mix fruit puree with a little sugar, then add ice cubes and water to make a perfect warm-weather drink. This recipe calls for fresh mango, but you can easily substitute frozen — just let it thaw first.
I always assumed the margarita was the most popular cocktail in Mexico, but nope: This gloriously simple concoction of grapefruit soda, lime juice, tequila, and ice has earned that distinction. I can’t think of a better way to brighten an evening in quarantine.
Recipes for quarantine cooking
We're with you at Yummly during the coronavirus to make home cooking as easy and flexible as possible. You'll find lots more ideas in our quarantine cooking collection.
Lots more Mexican recipes to explore
On Yummly we have thousands of Mexican dishes to suit whatever fiesta you're dreaming of, including guacamole recipes, margarita recipes, and favorites such as fajitas, quesadillas, burritos, carnitas, fish tacos, pico de gallo, and taquitos. If you're in the mood for tres leches cake, a flan, or some churros for dessert, be sure to check out 12 Sweet Ways To Celebrate Cinco de Mayo.