A quick history lesson: Cinco de Mayo was born on the fifth day of the fifth month of the year 1862, when General Ignacio Zaragoza, with the support of local civilians and Zacapoaxtla Indians, led 2,000 poorly equipped Mexican soldiers to victory over 6,000 French cavalry and infantrymen at the Battle of Puebla. Though Zaragoza’s success was short-lived — the following year, French forces swept through Puebla en route to Mexico City, where they managed to overthrow the still-young Mexican Republic — his victory lives on in Mexico, where Cinco de Mayo is a minor national holiday, primarily observed in Puebla and Mexico City. And also more obscurely but perhaps more passionately, in the United States, where in recent decades Cinco de Mayo has morphed into a major festival of Chicano culture.
It’s with this latter, domestic incarnation in mind that, for this month’s cookbook recommendations, I have plucked some choice morsels detailing the remarkable contributions of Mexican-Americans to regional cooking in the United States. So, just in time for Cinco de Mayo, here is a virtual tour of Mexican-influenced border cooking — from Tex-Mex to Cal-Mex, with a stop along the way in Santa Fe, N.M. — in four cookbooks that beautifully sketch the cultural wellsprings from which these regional cuisines were born.