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5 de mayo, piñatas and frijoles charros

Did you know that Cinco de Mayo is not actually Mexican Independence Day, like many in the U.S. tend to believe? A historical event did occur that day, but in Mexico, May 5 is not a national holiday. It is, however, celebrated in the state of Puebla, Mexico.

For years, I didn’t understand why my American friends wished me “Happy Cinco de Mayo.” It wasn’t until an my American friend Aby said, “Happy Mexican Independence Day, are you having a grande fiesta?” I told her “September 16 is a long way off, but we can plan something to celebrate Independence Day big!”

She was confused by my answer and chimed, “September? No, I’m talking about Cinco de Mayo, your Independence Day.” I began to understand that people in the U.S. celebrate May 5.

On May 5, a battle took place between the Mexican and French Empire’s armies in the state of Puebla in 1862. It was a failed attempt from the French Empire to conquer Mexico, and Mexico won the battle.

So, I told my friend Aby, “May 5 is not really a date we celebrate, but we can still have a party, and then we can celebrate Independence Day in September!”

She loved the idea, and started planning. My friends and I made fajitas, red rice, frijoles charros (charro beans), aguas frescas like cucumber lemonade, handmade tortillas, guacamole, flan and so much more food!

The day of the party, Aby told me that she had found a small piñata in a market and wanted to bust it “Mexican style” with all our friends, referring to a story I had told her about how we bust piñatas in Mexico: blindfolded and dizzy while a traditional song is sung.

We had so much fun! Everybody was so dizzy that they didn’t even got close to hitting the piñata.

After a while, my friend insisted I have a chance. They blindfolded me and spun me around several times. (What they failed to realize is that I have a life experience doing this — as a kid every celebration included piñatas made of clay, and my older cousins never had mercy on me.) It didn’t take much for me to find the little paper piñata. I hit it, and it fell to the ground. I only heard people gasp “Oh!” and the piñata party was over!

I felt bad. But after a moment, everybody started laughing again and the fiesta continued.

Today, I want to share with you one of the side dishes that are very traditional in Mexico: Frijoles charros.

Frijoles Charros, Mexican Charro beans


1 lb. Dry Pinto beans

½ onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

4 medium tomatoes (2 chopped and 2 blended)

2 serrano peppers, chopped (without seeds for less spiciness)

8 oz. of bacon, chopped

A bunch of cilantro

1 bunch of oregano

2 bay leaves

1 garlic glove

1 can of beer

4 cups of chicken stock or water (approx.)

Salt and pepper, to taste


Let beans soak in water overnight.

In a large pot, fry bacon. When ready, take out of the pot and set aside. Use the bacon grease to sauté the onion, bell pepper and serranos. When onion is translucent add chopped tomatoes, stir for about 1 minute.

Pour the bacon back into the pot and add the soaked pinto beans (only the beans without the water) and the rest of the ingredients: blended tomatoes, cilantro, oregano, bay leaves, garlic, some salt and pepper. Cover with water (or chicken stock). When it starts boiling, pour the beer and let the beans cook for about 2 hours on low heat. Add water as necessary.

Beans are ready when they are soft. Adjust salt and other seasonings.

Enjoy on rice and your preferred protein.

*For a chunkier consistency, smash some of the beans with a wooden spoon.

*If using slow cooker, let them cook for a minimum of 4 hours. The more they cook, the better flavor they’ll have.


If you liked this recipe, you might enjoy trying Alambre de res Mexico City Style!

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