A Make-Ahead Mexican Fiesta

By: Carolyn Malcoun  |  Tuesday, April 28, 2015

When I entertain, I often make Mexican food. It's easy, budget-friendly and everyone loves it. Plus I can please vegetarians, vegans, omnivores and even kids without making myself crazy, and the leftovers are always welcome.

With Cinco de Mayo around the corner, I'm already planning my next Mexican fiesta. Lucky for me (and you!), I have the perfect Mexican menu all queued up. Fresh salsas, melt-in-your-mouth steak, creamy black beans, zesty shrimp and more recipes that seem impressive, but are actually incredibly simple, will line my table and fill my friends' plates. Huge bonus: Almost everything can be made in advance, so you have little to do but enjoy hanging out with your guests.

This menu comes courtesy of Mexico City-born chef Roberto Santibañez. He now calls New York City home and cooks up delicious Mexican fare in his Fonda restaurants. The recipes are simple yet packed with flavor. Make the menu and we guarantee it will become your go-to entertaining menu this summer!

Here's the menu plus make-ahead tips for all the dishes. Just warm up some tortillas and you're good to go!

Grilled Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa (Salsa de Tomatillo Asado con Chile Chipotle)Grilled Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa (Salsa de Tomatillo Asado con Chile Chipotle): In this salsa recipe, tomatillos are softened on the grill and slightly charred for smoky flavor. To vary the heat, use 1 teaspoon of chipotle powder for mild and up to 3 teaspoons for a little kick in the pants.

Grilled Pineapple Salsa with Cucumber (Salsa de Piña Asada con Pepino y Habanero)Grilled Pineapple Salsa with Cucumber (Salsa de Piña Asada con Pepino y Habanero): Habanero chile gives this caramelized pineapple salsa recipe a little spice. If you're looking to tame the heat, try fresh jalapeños instead.

Make-ahead tip: The flavors of these two salsas have a chance to fully develop when you make them the day before. On fiesta day, let them stand at room temperature for about an hour to get the chill out before serving.

Chile-Marinated Skirt Steak (Carne Asada en Adobo de Guajillo)Chile-Marinated Skirt Steak (Carne Asada en Adobo de Guajillo): Dried chiles are toasted, soaked and pureed to make a flavorful steak marinade. Toasting the chiles in a heavy, dry skillet is the key to unlocking their flavor (not just their heat). Look for dried chiles in the produce section of many markets.

Make-ahead tip: Skirt steak is best when it has time to soak up the flavors of any seasonings. Make this toasted chile marinade up to 5 days ahead and rub it on the steak the day before the party. All that's left to do: grill and slice.

Mexican Black Beans (Frijoles Negros con Hoja de Aguacate)Mexican Black Beans (Frijoles Negros con Hoja de Aguacate): This authentic recipe for black beans uses avocado leaves to add a flavor reminiscent of anise. If you don't have a Latin market in your area you'll likely have to go online to get avocado leaves, though it's worth it. But even if you leave them out, you'll still have an awesome pot of black beans.

Make-ahead tip: A pot of black beans takes 1 to 2 hours to become tender, depending on how fresh your beans are. Make them up to 3 days ahead and then slowly reheat on the stovetop (thinning with a little broth or water as needed) about an hour before serving.

Roasted Poblano Chiles with Onion (Rajas)Roasted Poblano Chiles with Onion (Rajas): This chunky Mexican side dish called rajas, which literally means "strips" in Spanish, is a perfect side to grilled steak or chicken and a fantastic taco topper.

Make-ahead tip: Do a little pre-party multitasking: while the black beans are simmering, grill and peel the poblanos for this taco topping.

Garlic-Oregano Grilled Shrimp (Camarones Asada en Escabeche)Garlic-Oregano Grilled Shrimp (Camarones Asada en Escabeche): Escabeche, a quick pickling of already-cooked food, is a common way of preparing fish and vegetables in Mexico. In this version, the shrimp are grilled first, then infused with flavor from a chile, herb and vinegar marinade.

Make-ahead tip: You can make the marinade for these zesty shrimp a day or two ahead. Then about an hour before your guests arrive, pop the shrimp on the grill; let them marinate as the party heats up.

Honeydew Melon Agua Fresca (Agua de Melon Verde)Honeydew Melon Agua Fresca (Agua de Melon Verde): We've knocked back the sugar quite a bit in this agua fresca recipe. This refreshing drink is often a way that Mexicans use up their leftover fruit, so feel free to use this technique with whatever fruit you have, especially other melons and tropical fruits like pineapple and mango.

Make-ahead tip: Make the agua fresca one day in advance.