Even though I lived in California for many years prior to moving to Maine, I never learned how to celebrate Cinco de Mayo correctly until I spent a recent spring in northern Idaho.

Did you know there’s a considerable Hispanic population near the Canadian border, as well as a plethora of Mexican restaurants? And yes, everyone celebrates Cinco de Mayo.

Remembering those festivities inspired me to share these southwestern recipes that can be served in a few different ways. The easy-to-prepare chicken filling for the lettuce wraps can also be tucked into warmed corn or flour tortillas, or simply served atop a bowl of greens, spicy rice, or even chips. Want to go meatless? That’s OK, too.

I like to poach the boneless chicken breasts in stock and herbs. A rotisserie chicken from the deli also works just fine.

Protein can be added to the corn pudding and made into a main dish with the addition of ground beef or turkey, or shredded pork or chicken. Just fold in your choice before baking.

And what would a fiesta be without dessert? For this cake, I gently salt and toast raw pumpkin seeds in the oven then cool them. I use Taza Chocolate, but even chocolate chips and a dash of cinnamon and/or chili powder will do.

*Happy Cinco de Mayo! Eat well!

Southwest Lettuce Wraps

3 cups cooked chicken breast, cubed

1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained

1 pkg. grape tomatoes, halved

1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies

1/2 cup salsa Verde

1/4 cup red onion, diced

1/4 cup red pepper, diced

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 avocado, peeled and chopped

Sour cream

12 Boston lettuce leaves

Cilantro

In a large bowl, combine the first 11 ingredients. Refrigerate. For serving, place a spoonful of chicken mixture on each lettuce leaf then garnish with avocado, sour cream and cilantro. Fold lettuce over filling. Yield: 6 servings

Spiced Corn Pudding

1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped

6 green onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies, drained

3 medium jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped

2 packages (10 oz. each) frozen corn, thawed, divided

1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

1/3 cup sour cream

1/4 cup milk

5 large eggs

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon thyme

Bread crumbs

Grated cheddar cheese

In a skillet, sauté red pepper and onions in oil until tender. Remove from heat. Stir in chilies, jalapenos and half the corn. In a blender, combine the remaining ingredients except crumbs and cheese; stir in remaining corn. Cover and process for 3 minutes or until smooth. Stir into pepper mixture. Pour mixture into a buttered 13×9-inch baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Add cheese and bake 5 more minutes or until cheese is melted. Yield: 12 servings

Mexican Chocolate Cake with Pepitas

1/2 cup butter, softened and diced

1 3/4 cups salted, toasted pumpkin seeds

1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 tbsp. tequila or water

1/3 cup flour

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 cups Mexican chocolate, chopped

1 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper. Sprinkle 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds in the pan and dust with 2 tbsp. sugar.

In a food processor, pulse remainder of seeds and remainder of sugar together until the mixture resembles sand. Add eggs, tequila and butter. Pulse until smooth. Add flour and baking powder, pulsing until mixed. Add half the chocolate and pulse until combined.

Spoon the batter into pan and bake in lower third of oven for 25 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees and bake for 25 minutes more, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

Invert onto a plate and sprinkle with remaining chocolate, lightly pressing the chunks into the cake. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Yield: 8-10 servings

Karen Scneider cooks and writes in the village of Cundy’s Harbor. You can reach her at [email protected]

Southwest Lettuce Wraps bring zip to the Cinco de Mayo holiday.

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