Today is the holiday Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”), celebrated in Mexico and by many Mexican Americans.  It is similar to the Catholic holiday of All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1st and/or All Souls Day, celebrated on November 2nd. On this day, Mexican families traditionally gather together to pray for the souls of family and friends who have passed away. It is a celebration of the lives of those who are no longer with us and the traditions to mark the occasion vary by region.  Typically, Mexican people build private altars to the deceased or visit the graves, adorning them with flowers such as marigolds, photos and other memorabilia. Some people dress up on costumes and the skull and bones are very popular symbols of the day. Many families clean their homes and make the favorite food and drinks of the deceased.
In honor of the occasion, here is a new Mexican recipe that I adopted from Cooking Light magazine. It’s a great recipe to feed a crowd. You can make it ahead and it feeds alot of people! 

Fairytale Green-Chili Chicken Tortilla Pie

1 1/3  cups  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1  cup canned chopped green chiles, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1  cup fat-free sour cream
3/4  teaspoon salt
1/2  teaspoon ground cumin
1/2  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2  (10 1/2-ounce) cans condensed 98% fat-free cream of chicken soup, undiluted (such as Campbell’s)
1  garlic clove, minced
Cooking spray
24  (6-inch) flour tortillas (Authentic Mexican work best because they are thicker)
5  cups shredded cooked chicken breast (about 1.5 pounds)
1 1/2  cups finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups of shredded low fat mexican cheese mix (such as Sargento)

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine the first 9 ingredients in a large saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.  Spread 1 cup soup mixture in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 6 tortillas over the soup mixture, and top with 1 cup chicken and 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layers, ending with the cheese.  Spread remaining soup mixture over cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.  Let sit for about 30 minutes after removing from the oven so it has time to set.

Shred the chicken with a fork.
Cream base for pie layers.
The chicken tortilla pie before baking.

Here are a two more recipes to get your Cinco de Mayo celebration started this week! I love these recipes because they are healthful and delicious and not your typical taco feast! I hope you like them too!

Serves 4

4 8-inch whole wheat or multigrain tortillas
1 can black beans, washed and drained
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of orange juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic
Handfull of chopped cilantro plus more leaves for garnish
2 limes
4 oz of cotija cheese
1 rotissieri chicken breasts, shredded
1 can of salsa verde (green salsa)

1/2 avocado
Dollup of sour cream

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

To make the black bean dip: Combine black beans, red onion, orange juice, olive oil, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper, and the juice of one lime in a bowl. Puree in a blender until smooth. Put to the side.

In a separate bowl, place the shredded chicken and sprinkle with some of Emeril’s Southwestern Essence. Mix the shredded chicken with enough salsa verde to coat.

To assemble the tortilla pie: Coat a 9 inch round baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 of the black bean mixture onto a tortilla. Top with 1/4 of the chicken mixture. Sprinkle some of the cotija cheese on top. Repeat 3 more times. Squirt some lime juice on top.

Bake in oven about 20 minutes, until top is nice and brown and crunchy. Remove from oven and garnish with cilantro. Optional: Place some diced avocado slices on top and a slice of lime on the side. Serve immediately.

Mexican Watermelon Salad
Serves 4

1 small seedless watermelon
4 oz of cotija cheese
1 cup of cilantro leaves
4 tablespoons of lavendar honey
1 tablespoon of orange juice
1 lime

Use a melon baller to scoop out balls of the watermelon. Place in decorative glass salad bowl. Crumble cheese on top of watermelon. Add cilantro.  In small bowl, mix lavendar honey, orange juice and lime juice.  Add to Salad. Mix well. Serve immediately.

Have a  Happy Cinco de Mayo! Enjoy! 🙂 

Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for the “Fifth of May” is this Wednesday! Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla because it marks the day when the Mexican army triumped over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It actually has limited significance in Mexico but is commonly celebrated in the United States and the throughout the world to honor Mexican culture. So what will you be cooking or drinking to celebrate?

One of my favorite Mexican dishes is simple: chicken tortilla soup. This soup tastes as good as it looks! Plus it’s a very flavorful and healthful dish that is really easy to make. You start off by pureeing tomatoes, peppers, garlic and sauteed onions in a blender. (I don’t have a food processer. My blender works just fine for this dish!) Then just cook the chicken in the broth. And when you are ready to serve, garnish with your favorite ingredients.

I used a chipotle chile pepper canned in adobo sauce to spice up my soup.  A chipotle chile pepper is actually a dried, smoked jalapeño. It has wrinkled dark brown skin and a smokey sweet and almost chocolate-like flavor. Chipotle chili peppers are commonly found dried, pickled and canned in Adobo sauce. Adobo sauce is a dark red sauce or paste made from ground chiles, herbs and vinegar.  Most grocery stores carry canned chipotles.  I found mine in the specialty Mexican section of Wegmans.  (I also used this sauce in my Renaissance White Chicken Chili.)  If you cannot find chipotle peppers canned in adobe sauce, feel free to substitute a chopped and seeded jalepeno.  Jalepeno peppers, named after Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz, Mexico, is a smooth dark green pepper that ranges from hot to very hot. These peppers are scarlet red when ripe (hence, the red chili icon from Chili’s!)

WARNING: For those of you who have never worked with hot peppers before, take heed: BE SURE TO THOROUGHLY WASH YOUR HANDS after touching any of these peppers, ESPECIALLY THE SEEDS OF THE JALEPENO!!! NEVER TOUCH YOUR EYES OR FACE WHEN WORKING WITH HOT PEPPERS! 🙂

I also used some cotija cheese to add another layer of flavor to this dish. Cotija is a Mexican cheese named after Cotija de la Paz, a town in the state of Michoacan. (It is pronounced koh TEE ha.)  It is a salty cheese similar to the Greek feta cheese. It can be made from cow’s or goat’s milk and can be semisoft to very hard. This cheese is optional – I didn’t use it when I was really trying to count my calories. But a little crumble of this cheese goes a long way! 🙂

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Serves 4

1 cooking onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 14 oz can of tomatoes
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or 1 seeded jalapeño)
6 cups of low sodium chicken broth
Frank’s Hot Sauce
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Emeril’s Southwestern Essence
1 bag of Guiltless Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
1 handful of fresh cilantro
1 avocado
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: Cotija Cheese

Sauté the onion and garlic in a large soup pot. When the onions are translucent, add them to a blender with the can of whole tomatoes and chipotle pepper. Add 1 teaspoon of Adobo sauce. Puree.

Return the mixture to the pot and add the chicken broth.  Bring to a simmer.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Rub a little of the Emeril’s Southwestern Essence onto the chicken. Add the chicken to the soup and let cook for about 10 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pot when it is cooked and shred.  Add the chicken back into the pot.  Season the soup with salt and pepper and a dash of Frank’s hot sauce. (Be careful with this step unless you want the soup to be really hot!)
Scoop broth and chicken into a bowl.  Serve with blue corn tortilla chips, diced avocado, and fresh cilantro.


Guacamole, one of the most beloved Mexican specialties and a common dish in the United States, is probably the easiest treat you can whip up for yourself this Cinco de Mayo. It is easy to find a pre-packaged guacamole in your local grocery store but it’s easily made from scratch by mixing avocado mixed with lemon or lime juice and other seasonings. It can be used as a dip, sauce, topping or a side dish.  Once you make fresh guacamole yourself, you will never go back to that processed guacamole laden with chemical preservatives – I PROMISE!

The star of guacamole is the avocado.  You want to make sure that you use ripe avocados when making guacamole so that they will mash easily.  You want them to be a dark green color and firm to the touch but not too firm or hard.  (To speed the ripening process, you can place them in a paper bag for a few days at room temperature.)  In case you have never worked with avocados before, note that when you cut them open they discolor quickly. To prevent this, we use citrus juice. Avocados are rarely cooked (even on Iron Chef America they were left at room temperature!) because cooking avocados longer than a few minutes causes them to lose their flavor and they turn bitter.

I used to use lime juice in my guacamole but switched over to lemon juice and I am really glad that I did! Eva Longoria, my favorite “desperate housewife,” said the secret to the best guacamole is to use lemon juice. And not only is Eva Longoria a successful Mexican actress, but she also owns her own restaurant, Beso. She was right. The lemon juice REALLY makes a difference!

Here is my recipe for a chunky guacamole. I don’t add tomatoes because I don’t want other ingredients to outshine the flavor of the avocado or cilantro- my two fav Mexican ingredients!

Fairytale Chunky Guacamole

2 ripe avocados
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 jalepeno, seeded and chopped
1 handful of cilantro, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lemon
Salt + pepper to taste

Using a fork, mash the avocados into big chunks. Mix in onion, jalepeno, cilantro, and garlic.  Drizzle with the juice of one lemon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.