Photos by MICHAEL COONS

Like spring exploding into full bloom, the Cinco de Mayo celebration is a feast for the senses. Mexican culture comes alive in the upbeat tunes of mariachi bands and the colorful attire of people celebrating in festive parades and folk dances.

To discover some of the authentic dishes of the season, we asked the team at Los Agaves, a restaurant at the Shoppes of Westlake Village, to prepare a Cinco de Mayo celebration meal.

Chile en Nogada

The Chile en Nogada, a stuffed pepper smothered in a creamy sauce, is garnished with pomegranate seeds, almonds and parsley, calling to mind the colors of the Mexican flag.

Serves 4 to 6

6 poblano peppers
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
½ cup canola or grapeseed oil
½ cup white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
½ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup olives, chopped
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. orange zest
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup almonds, sliced
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup raisins
½ cup green apple, chopped
½ cup pear, chopped
½ cup peaches, chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. sliced almonds

Nogada Sauce
½ cup goat cheese
1 cup walnuts
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup cream cheese
2 cups whole milk
2 tsp. sugar
2 oz. Port wine
½ tsp. cinnamon

Prepare poblano pepper by charring and peeling skin. When cool enough to handle, make a small slit and remove seeds.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact.

Sauté the ground beef and pork in oil. Add onions, garlic and season with salt and sugar.

After about 15 minutes, add tomatoes, parsley, olives and spices and cook for 5 additional minutes.

Add orange zest, nuts, raisins and fruits.

Remove from heat.

Carefully stuff the mixture into the peppers through the slit. Transfer the stuffed poblanos to a serving platter.

To prepare sauce, blend all ingredients in a blender. Pour into saucepan and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.

Should be the consistency of a heavy cream.

Cover stuffed poblanos with nogada sauce and garnish with pomegranate seeds, parsley and almonds.

Tinga de Pollo

Tinga de Pollo is served with plantains, rice and beans and a Blackberry Cassis Margarita.

Serves 4 to 6

2 lb. chicken breast, bone in

1 white onion, ½ sliced, ½ minced

1 small bay leaf

1½ Tbsp. olive oil

¼ cup chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped*

½ cup dried chipotle pepper

1 lb. Roma tomatoes, chopped

4 cups tomato juice

3 garlic cloves, 2 smashed, 1 minced

½ tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. ground black pepper

½ tsp. dried cumin

½ cup Knorr Suiza chicken boullion*

Boil chicken in large stock pot with enough water to cover. Add sliced onion, smashed garlic cloves and bay leaf.

Boil until cooked, approximately 30 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, shred chicken and put it in separate bowl.

Heat a large sauté pan on medium heat and add olive oil. When warm, add minced onion, minced garlic, chipotle pepper in adobo sauce and dried chipotle peppers and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, until onions are translucent.

Add diced tomatoes, tomato juice, dried spices and chicken boullion. Boil 15 minutes.

Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Return the sauce to the pan, add chicken and simmer over low heat so all the ingredients come together.

Serve with warm tortillas.

*These can be found in the Mexican food aisle of a supermarket.

Ceviche Verde

Ceviche Verde is a refreshing cold seafood salad. Chef Ricardo serves it with plantain garnish.

Serves 4 to 6

1 lb. fresh fish (halibut or sea bass)
4 cups fresh lime juice
3 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Salsa
1 bunch fresh cilantro
6 basil leaves
4 jalapeno peppers
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Spanish (or yellow) onion, minced
1 cup fresh orange juice
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt

Cut fish into 1″ cubes. Allow to marinate in lime juice, vinegar, salt and pepper for six hours.

Blend salsa ingredients in blender or food processor.

After fish has marinated, remove from the lime juice mixture and place in a separate bowl.

Add salsa.

Garnish with seasonal fruit or veggies (1 cup, chopped). Suggested garnishes: green apples, fresh pineapple, cucumber, jicama, loquats.

Mix and serve.

Seafood Molcajete

The Seafoo Molcajete is a tasty stew with chunks of freshly grilled fish served in a tomato-based broth.

Serves 4 to 6

Seafood*
1 lb. clams
1 lb. mussels
1 lb. scallops
1 lb. shrimp
1 lb. halibut
1 lb. salmon
1 lb. langostino
*Choose three or four of these.

Sauce
12 Roma tomatoes
4 cups tomato juice
3 green bell peppers
½ cup garlic cloves
1 tsp. black pepper
½ cup chicken base
½ yellow onion
½ cup chipotle pepper
1 tsp. cumin
6 cups water

Steam, grill or sear seafood separately, depending on which fish you choose.

In a large Dutch oven or sauce pan, combine all sauce ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Purée cooked sauce in a blender.

Pour sauce into serving bowl and add cooked fish. Serve hot.

Blackberry Cassis Margarita

Serves 4 to 6

2 oz. tequila blanco (Sauza Blue)
1 oz. Edmond Briottet Creme de Cassis*
1 oz. fresh lime juice
¼ oz. (dash) agave nectar**

Pour ingredients into cocktail shaker. Shake rigorously with ice. Strain into glass over new ice.

* Leopold Bros. Rocky Mountain Blackberry Liqueur or Giffard Cassis Noir De Bourgogne Liqueur may be substituted.
**Très Agaves agave nectar is recommended, or use one that is mix ready (not thick).

La Granada Margarita

2 oz. 100% agave tequila blanco
1¼ oz. fresh squeezed, strained lime juice
1 oz. Pom syrup*

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake rigorously with ice. Strain into glass over new ice.

*Purchase Pom syrup or make your own using Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. Heat juice on low and add sugar in a ratio of 1:1.25. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bottle and store in fridge up to two weeks.

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Check out the digital magazine Spring 2016 for more…