What is Cinco de Mayo? A History Lesson and a Salsa Recipe

I just typed “Cinco de Mayo” into google, hit “search” and clicked on “images”. This was the first thing that I saw:


It’s a promo banner from a website for the Turismo Tavern, a small bar in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. The website advertises “Marguerita [sic] and Sangria specials” for the duration of the day, and even provides a sentence-long explanation of the holiday itself; “Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Mexican defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla.”

I found that impressive. Most people have no idea what Cinco de Mayo actually is, and in fact, the holiday has become as non-descript as the banner above. Rather than a genuine holiday reflecting the historical significance of the fifth of May, it’s mutated into a vaguely-defined celebration of Mexican heritage which is celebrated largely in America. For most, the day is simply an excuse to binge on Corona and Jose Cuervo, much in the same way St. Paddy’s Day instigates the consumption of Guiness and Jameson.

Another similarity between Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day is that the historical reasoning – in both cases – has been largely forgotten. As a history teacher, I feel that I would be doing you a disservice to not attempt to rectify this issue… so here’s what you should know:

First, Mexican Independence Day is actually September 16. It is also known as “Grito de Dolores” or the “Call of Dolores”, and it celebrates the beginning  of the Mexican war for independence from Spain. The “cry” for independence was made in the town of Dolores in 1810, though it was not officially achieved until 1821.

As briefly explained in the blurb above, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla. But let’s go back to Mexican independence.

The period directly following independence from Spain was characterized by internal and external conflict. While independence was gained, the newly formed Mexican state was never a unified political entity as was the United States following the American War for Independence. As a result, Mexican residents lived in a constant state of political shifts, upheavals and revolutions. At the same time, Spain was angry that they lost their large American territory, and tried to violently retake it between 1821 and 1829. Despite sectionalism and continued turmoil, General Santa Anna rose to power (technically he was elected as president) in 1832. His inconsistent rule led to further political upheaval, and eventually the Texas revolution.

For years, the Mexican government attempted to incentivize the settlement of Texas by providing large spreads of land for relatively little money. This caused more than 20,000 Americans to move into this less-than-desirable territory at an alarming rate, though most – in typical American fashion – refused to follow the two main concessions of Texan land ownership: to convert to Catholicism and to not bring slaves into the territory. The centralized Mexican government attempted to stem the Americanization of the territory in the early 1830’s by eliminating the incentives and placing troops on the Northern border between Texas and the established states, which (as you can imagine) caused further violence. American settlers started the Texas Revolution, a bid for independence, to which the Mexican government (i.e. the president turned dictator Santa Anna) responded with a resounding “Fuck that! (subtext: this is a good way to unify my divided Mexican people.”  As a result Mexican troops clashed with a standing Texan army under the leadership of Sam Houston. A series of conflicts (including the Alamo) led to the capture of Santa Anna who, in exchange for his freedom, agreed to withdraw his forces to the South of the Rio Grande. Texas became a free-floating territory until it was annexed as a state in 1845, which caused the Mexican-American War.

At that point, this unnecessary conflict (also known as the Invasion of Mexico) was inevitable. The Mexican government had threatened war if the US annexed Texas. At the same time, President Polk’s expansionist spirit and overall aggression ignited the spark of war. In 1846, Mexico declared a “defensive war” against America, and despite the leadership of General Santa Anna, by 1848 the United states had taken about 900,000 square miles of territory from their defeated southern neighbor, which extended the American territory all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The years following Mexican defeat at the hands of the American forces is characterized by corruption, and further political unrest. A reinstated president Santa Anna sold tracts of land to the American government and squandered the majority of the money, and then went into exile (again) in 1855. The following years saw numerous attempts at political reform, which eventually led to a civil war – known as the War of Reform – waged between conservative hard-liners and liberal revolutionaries who believed that the Catholic church held too much political power.

So count it up. Over a period of about 40 years, the Mexican people were involved (mostly unwillingly) in four different conflicts: the war for independence, the Texas Revolution, the Mexican-American War and finally the War of Reform. This left the people largely disheartened, and – more importantly for our story – the government incredibly in debt.

As with most newly-formed, independent, post-imperialist countries, their debt was mostly owed to the governments of historically-imperialistic nations, in this case the governments of America, France, Spain and Britain. Though some recompense had been made between Mexico and America by that point, in 1861, the three European powers united in a pact to attempt to recover their debt from what they perceived to be a failing nation. Napoleon III, the French Emperor, seized the opportunity for expansion, and committed forces to the occupation of Mexico in the hopes of taking control of their natural resources and using the country as a foreign base of operations. Napoleon III installed Maximilian Ferdinand, a member of the Hapsburg dynasty, as the Emperor of Mexico. Though this seems like a random happening, it was a necessary political maneuver on the part of Napoleon to placate the Roman-Catholic Church, which had supported the French incursion.

You may be thinking, “Where the hell is America in all this? Why aren’t they fighting the French? Why aren’t you just writing about food?” It’s simple really. The Americans were fighting each other. Between 1861 and 1865, the good ol’ US of A was divided North-to-South in what we know as the Civil War. So Washington was a little preoccupied to worry about their neighbor to the south. Actually, it wasn’t until the Confederate government reached out to the French in a bid for assistance that the Americans gave it a second thought.

As would any threatened peoples, the Mexicans rallied together in 1861 to resist invasion by the French armed forces, which were thought to be the best equipped and prepared in the world. On the fifth of May, 1862, a French force attacked the city of Puebla, a small (but important) city in Southern Mexico. In a surprising turn of events, the French forces were defeated by the Mexican resistance, and were forced to withdraw from the city. Though this did not significantly alter the greater French conquest of the country, the victory was used as a means of unifying the Mexican people in their fight against the French. May 5th – Cinco de Mayo – was declared a national holiday in order to celebrate the memory of this decisive victory.

While it was celebrated in Mexico, it was celebrated to an even greater extent by Mexican-Americans who saw it as a decisive victory against oppression. Taken in the context of the American Civil-War, the victory at Puebla has even been seen as a victory for abolition, as it may have stalled the French long enough for the Union army to rally against the Confederacy and keep Napoleon from influencing the outcome of the American Civil War.

Since the 1860’s, Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in  various ways in as many places, and as with many holidays, the true meaning was eventually lost in the haze of celebration itself. As the Mexican and Mexican-American identities continued to shift, so did the meaning of Cinco de Mayo. By the 1900’s the holiday had become a general Mexican-American celebration of heritage, while it was largely forgotten as a decisive victory against French oppression.

Eventually the US imposed sanctions on the French, who – under threat of war – were forced to withdraw their influence from Mexico. The conflicts of the 1860’s were overshadowed by the more political turmoil and upheaval, and the meaning of Cinco de Mayo was lost to history.

Now that you know all that, here’s my favorite salsa recipe to help you celebrate.


  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and rough chopped
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 large (28 oz or so) can whole or diced tomatoes (use fire-roasted or “Mexican style” for an extra boost
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender.


Consume, preferably with tortilla chips, as you revel in your new-found knowledge.

My awesome salsa, served with some equally awesome nachos.

My awesome salsa, served with some equally awesome nachos.

Chipotle Flank Steak Tacos

There’s no random story here, just a tasty recipe for some spicy flank steak tacos. This could be good recipe for Cinco de Mayo – you might want to bookmark this one for next week.


Flank Steak Marinade:

  • Juice of 5 limes
  • ¼ cup agave
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro


Peppers and Onions

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ tsp chipotle chili powder
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp coriander


Other (Equally Important) Ingredients:

  • 2-3 lb. flank steak
  • Tortillas
  • Cotija cheese
  • fresh cilantro
  • Lime wedges for serving


Combine all of the ingredients for the marinade, except the cilantro, in a food processor or blender. Puree the ingredients until they are well-combined. Remove the steak from it’s packaging, and place it in a large ziploc bag or a large bowl. Pour the marinade and the chopped cilantro into the bag or bowl, and flip the steak until it is coated with both the liquid and the fresh herbs. Allow the steak to marinate for at least 30 minutes, but not more than an hour or so.


Preheat the grill over medium-high heat.


In the meantime, slice the peppers and onions to your desired thickness, toss them with the oil and spices, and let them sit for a bit. Trust me, it’ll make ‘em more delicious. I prefer a really thin slice on veggies like this, so I have a fine-mesh grill basket that allows me to cook them without worrying about them falling through the grates. If that is a concern for you, you can always cut the veggies into larger pieces, or saute them on the stove instead of the grill.


Grill the steak to your desired doneness, which if you’re a human with taste buds and common sense, should be a juicy, succulent, mid-rare at the very most. Unless – of course – you enjoy wasting the money that you spent on steak. In order to reach a healthy mid-rare, the steak should take no more than 4 minutes per side if grilled on medium-high.


Crank the heat to high, and grill the peppers and onions, either directly on the grill or in a grill basket. Turn the veggies frequently to avoid burning them, a little char adds flavor but anything more turns your garnish into floppy, moderately-spiced charcoal. Cook the onions to your desired doneness, which for me takes about 4-5 minutes on the grill. Coincidentally that’s about the amount of time that you should be letting the steak rest after removing it from the grill.


Slice the steak – very thin – against the grain. Not paper thin, just thin. Don’t say “paper thin,” it’s annoying.


Build each taco on a tortilla with some thin-sliced steak, a scoop of peppers and onions, some crumbled cotija cheese, a pinch of fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime.


Lemony-fresh Pasta with Salmon and Asparagus

This simple and light pasta dish is easy to make, great for the springtime, and – quite simply – delicious and satisfying. I’ve made many variations of this in the past, and I’ve posted a version or two as well, but the one below is by far the best.

This dish uses rich, full and simple flavors that play well off of and enhance one and other.

It’s pretty simple, the salmon is a rich, bold flavor, that’s enhanced by the lemon. The wilted arugula gives the whole dish the peppery notes that it needs to balance out the salty parmesan cheese, and the asparagus provides that rich, nutty flavor to round out the entire profile.

Follow the directions to create your own!



  • 1 lb. sockeye salmon
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/2 lb. pasta (I use my own whole wheat spinach linguine)
  • 1 clove garlic – minced
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 3/4 cup fresh parsley – chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Ok – this is an easy one. First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and place a pot of salted water to boil on the stove.

Flatten a piece of aluminum foil over a large, rimmed cookie sheet. The aluminium foil is to make clean-up easier – if you don’t care about cleaning up the pan, go ahead an forgo the aluminum foil.

Prep the asparagus by cutting the bottoms off, laying the stalks out on the foil, and tossing them with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and a dusting of salt and pepper. You can also add some lemon zest to give the greens some extra zing!

Prep the fish by cutting the fillet into two or thee pieces. Give the fillet (0r pieces thereof) a generous dusting of salt and pepper, and then cover the exposed flesh with thin slices of lemon.

Topping salmon with lemon slices is my new favorite trick. If adds some citrus flavor, and keeps the fish nice and moist!

Topping salmon with lemon slices is my new favorite trick. If adds some citrus flavor, and keeps the fish nice and moist!

Unless there’s room on the side of the asparagus to place the fish, you can go ahead and layer the fillets on top of the stalks.

Bake the asparagus and fish in the preheated oven. This should take about 15 minutes.

At the same time, cook the pasta, drain it, and rinse it with cold water so it doesn’t overcook. Reserve 1/2 a cup of the water from cooking the pasta.

In a large skillet, pot or frying pan (I usually use a large, non-stick frying pan) heat a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. You can also reuse the pasta-water pot for this after you drain it out: the high sides will be useful for stirring around all of the stuff that you add back in.

Once the oil is hot (it splatters if you flick a little water into it) add the garlic and saute until golden-brown and effervescent. This should take no more than 60 seconds.

Add the arugula, pasta, the 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water and the juice of one of the lemons. Fold the ingredients together, allowing the arugula to wilt, which should take about five minutes.

In the meantime, flake the salmon using two forks, and chop the asparagus into short (3/4 inch – 1 inch) pieces.

Once the arugula is wilted, season the mixture with salt and pepper (to taste) and fold in the salmon, asparagus, Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of the chopped fresh parsley.

Serve – in generous portions, because it’s delicious – as soon as the cheese is melted, with a pinch of fresh parsley, and a bit of lemon zest (but only if you’re feeling zesty… get it?).


Slow-cooker Pulled Pork Tacos with Sweet Apple Slaw

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

I realize that I should probably be writing an obligatory post in honor of the most Irish of Holidays, but I just didn’t want to. Believe me, I’m a fan of Irish food, or at least the American interpretation thereof; I love a good Irish breakfast, I have a great shepherd’s pie recipe (made with both bacon and Guinness, no less), and at the very least, bangers and mash is a lot of fun to say. I am also fully aware that if I pulled out a platter of corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight, my wife would probably never speak to me again. After all, Irish people don’t actually eat corned beef, Irish-Americans do. So when you break out that “traditional Irish” dish, you’re actually celebrating the emigration of a people and the necessary culinary adaptations they undertook as a result of the availability of different resources. In short, in Ireland they ate mostly pork and sheep (hence sausages and shepherd’s pie), and in America the Irish ate beef… like AMERICANS. For a more comprehensive explanation – and a delicious looking recipe – check out this blog post from the Ranting Chef.

In lieu of a banger’s and mash recipe, or some other such creation, I’d like to share a recipe for pulled pork tacos that I made up off the top of my head on Saturday morning.

The final product: a delicious amalgamation of pork, chilis, sweet apples and crunchy slaw.

The final product: a delicious amalgamation of pork, chilies, sweet apples and crunchy slaw.

This recipes is – as always – inspired by a number of other recipes that I’ve made, although I aimed for a few specifics in designing this one. First, I tried to cater to my wife’s general aversion to lasting spice (you know, when it burns on the back of the tongue well after the bite is swallowed) by cutting back on the general amount of chili pepper that I included. I also aimed for a more robust sauce, which I then filled out with tomatoes and chilies, in order to appease the palate of a friend who’s partially averse to Mexican flavors. As a final move, I created a simple apple, cabbage, cilantro slaw in an attempt to balance the rich and juicy pork with something tangy and crunchy.

And it was a success… just ask our guests.

Ingredients (for the pork):

  • 1 Pork Loin
  • 4 Dried Pasillo Chiles
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with chiles
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tbsp cumin
  • ½ tbsp dried cilantro
  • 1  tsp mexican oregano
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ¾ cup vegetable broth

Ingredients (for slaw):

  • 1/2 head green cabbage – shredded
  • 2 fuji apples – grated
  • 2 carrots – grated
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro – chopped
  • 1 tbsp agave
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Juice of 1.5 limes

Directions (for pork):

Place dried pasillos in a bowl and cover with water. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to steam as you prep the remaining pork ingredients.

Cut pork loin into quarters and place them in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Place all of the other ingredients in the food processor, and blend until smooth. Remove the peppers from the water, remove the stems and seeds (they should pour right out), and place them in the blender/food processor, and blend until smooth.

Pour the mixture over the pork, which should be just covered.

Cook the pork and mixture on high for five hours, or until the pork can be pulled apart easily with a pair of forks.

Directions (for slaw):

Shred that shit and mix it all together.


Shred the pork and serve on tortillas with slaw, cilantro and a wedge of lime.

One-Pot Meal: Spicy Rice and Beans with Pulled Chicken

This is a crazy easy one-pot meal that you can make after work and have it ready in time for dinner. It’s also a difficult meal to ruin, as the main ingredients spend most of their time cooking in stock, which allows the flavors to combine and deepen. This recipe also makes A LOT of food, which means that you’ll have lunches planned for the following week.

My wife, who will periodically request a large pot of this for dinner claims that – like chili – it’s even better as leftovers.



  • 1.5 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2.5 lbs chicken breast
  • 1 medium onion – diced
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups (or more) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can corn kernels
  • 2 cups 10 minute brown rice
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • lime wedges for serving

Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large pan or stock pot. You want something with a wide bottom for the initial frying, and high sides for cooking the added liquid.

Dice the onion, and add it to the pan after the oil gets hot. Cook the onion until it gets translucent (about 3-4 minutes).

Remove the onions from the pan and scrape them into a small bowl, and set them aside.

Season the chicken breasts with a pinch of salt and pepper, and place them in the heated pan. Cook them on each side until golden brown (but not cooked through), about 4-5 minutes per side.

Once the chicken has a nice golden hue, return the onions to the pan with the chicken, and add the tomatoes and spices (chipotle chili powder-black pepper). Give all of these ingredients a good stir, which should adequately coat the chicken in the tomatoes, onions and spices.

Add the stock to ensure that the chicken is completely covered. With the pan that I use, this took about 2 cups of stock, but you can obviously add more if need be.

You’ll want to keep track of how much stock you add, because it will directly impact the amount of rice that you need to add as well.

Give it all a good stir, and allow the mixture to boil, cover it up, and then let it simmer on a medium-low setting for 20-30 minutes.

Open the cans of beans and corn and drain them of the excess fluids – you know, that weirdly viscous bean-liquid.

Uncover the pan, stir it up again, and then add the beans and corn to the mix. Again, bring it to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Let it simmer for another 10 minutes or so, and then add the 10-minute rice. We usually prefer a stickier final mixture, so I tend to use slightly less rice than I should based on the amount of liquid in the mix – but it’s up to you. Experiment with it.

The chicken should also be ready to pull at this point. You may choose to fish out the cooked pieces of chicken and pull them individually (using two forks on a cutting board) at this point, or to wait until the rice is cooked, and pull the chicken as you serve it. This second method is usually the one that I use, as it saves a little time, and a few burnt fingers.

Again, stir it, cover it and let it cook according to the directions on your particular package of instant rice.

Considering mine was ten-minute rice, I let it cook for ten minutes.


Stir the final product, and serve a few scoops with a squeeze of line and a pinch of fresh-chopped cilantro.


Whole Wheat Roasted Garlic and Red Pepper Pasta Dough


You’re joining me midway through what my wife is referring to as “Fit February.” For her, it’s an effort to increase personal health by eating right, exercising more, and forgoing alcohol in order to save calories and money. For me, it’s an exercise in solidarity. Happy wife, happy life!


To be fair, we have been eating relatively healthy for a little while now. My wife bought me a copy of the Thug Kitchen cookbook, which is a vegan text that approaches food in a simple but hilariously vulgar way. Honestly, I’m fully aware of the fact that I would not have been nearly as receptive to receiving a vegan cookbook as a gift if it didn’t include ingredient measurements like “a shitload” or tell readers to “taste that fucker and adjust spices whatever fucking way you like it.” Finally, people who talk about food the same fucking way I like to.


But the other night, as I planned out meals for the week, I realized that I had to take a night or two off from the vegan stuff. It’s not that I don’t want to “Eat like I give a fuck.” Actually, I think that I do cook and eat like that. It’s just that I also give a fuck about things besides tofu, cauliflower and chickpeas.

Plus I hadn’t made fresh pasta in a while.

I love fresh pasta.

So I pulled out the pasta maker and started poking around for potential ingredients.

Sure, I found some spinach, but I’ve made green noodles in the past. That’s my go-to dough recipe.

I didn’t have any fresh tomatoes, and though i was tempted to use canned, I wasn’t confident that it would turn out as intended. I then remembered that I had picked up a handful of fresh red peppers on my last Safeway trip. BOOM. Done. roasted peppers and garlic, because – let’s face it – garlic makes stuff taste delicious.


So I prepped for roasting… but let’s cover ingredients first:

  • 2 red peppers – roasted and skins removed
  • 4 cloves of garlic – roasted and peeled
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour (King Arthur is the easiest to work with for pasta dough)
  • 1 cup white flour (plus a whole bunch more for kneading and rolling
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Slice the tops off half a clove of garlic (about 4 cloves) and place it in a pocket of tinfoil. pour about a teaspoon of olive oil over the exposed cloves, and wrap the tinfoil tightly around the oil-coated garlic. Rub the slices of pepper with olive oil (this will take 1-2 tbsps) inside and out, and season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Place the garlic and pepper slices (skin side down) on the cookie sheet, and roast for 15 minutes. Flip the peppers (to skin side up) and continue roasting for another 15 minutes, until the skins are charred and loose. After the full half hour, remove the pepper slices to a medium bowl, and cover them tightly with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. The steam will loosen the skins and make them super easy to peel, which you should do, because that’s the next step.

Discard the skins and place the flesh of the peppers, a dash (maybe a tsp) of olive oil, and the roasted cloves of garlic (popped from their skins), and a pinch of salt and pepper, in the food processor, and blend it all down until it’s nice and smooth. Technically you should then allow the mixture to cool, but I didn’t, and it turned out fine.

Slowly mix the pepper-sludge into the flour and eggs, adding water by the tablespoon as necessary. I use a Cuisinart with a dough-hook for this whole process, but you can mix it by hand if you want/ need to.

Roll out the dough (again, I use the Cuisinart with the pasta-roller attachment) to your desired thickness, and cut it into your desired shape. Now that I’m thinking about it, this would make for a wonderful ravioli dough as well given the savory hints of garlic and bell pepper in the final product.

Fresh pasta only takes two or three minutes to cook, so watch it closely.

I usually cook half and dry the other half to enjoy later.

I served this pasta with bird balls and my meat sauce, and of course a little parmesan and a pinch of fresh basil and parsley.

Cheers, and enjoy!

Korean Pulled Chicken Tacos

I don’t always enjoy sharing food, especially when I’m intending to eat it. I’m the person who tries to stab you with my fork when you attempt to sneak fries off my plate.

Those are my fucking fries. If you want fries, get your own. Jackal.

But yesterday, as I was assembling my third of these delicious tacos while sitting at the lunch table, I was just on the verge of full. I wasn’t about to waste a good meal, so I proceeded to layer my last tortilla with the ssam, slaw and chicken. It smelled and tasted excellent, and – as you can imagine – when given the choice of consuming something delicious or listening to my body’s warning impulses (“I’m full, stop eating”), I choose to ignore nature and gorge on goodness. It must have smelled and looked good, since at one point my vegan colleague leaned in, pointed at my assembled tupperware, and said “I don’t eat those things, but if I did, I would eat that.”


It was then that I noticed a few more of my colleagues staring at my assembled taco.

As I’ve said before, one of the few things I like more than enjoying the food I make is sharing it with others (assuming I’m already full) so that they might enjoy it as well.

So when Carolyn (the style and food genius of heyprettything.com) asked for half, I graciously sought out a knife. Another interested party then jumped on board the “I want a bite” train, and before long the last of my lunch had been divided into thirds and was being handed around the table.

A few moment later I sat back, satisfied, as three other (hopefully) happy teachers munched away on my savory, spicy and sweet creation of the previous night.

Each part of this dish rings it’s own special character to the whole. The deep richness of the chicken is balanced by the light, crunchy and sweet kimchi slaw, and both are punctuated by the spice and earthy saltiness of the miso-dominant ssam sauce. The tortilla is simply a convenient delivery system.

Per Carolyn’s request, I’ve attempted to recreate and record the recipe that I made up this past Tuesday.


  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh garlic – minced
  • 1 medium white onion – diced
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp gochujang
  • 2 tbsp hoisin
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root – peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch (7-8) green onions – diced
  • tortillas – for serving


  • 3 cups green cabbage – shredded
  • 1 large carrot – peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 3/4 cup fresh cilantro – chopped
  • 3/4 cup kimchi – diced
  • 2 tbsp – rice wine vinegar

Simple ssam Sauce:

  • 2/3 cup miso
  • 1/3 cup gochujang
  • 1 small shallot – diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno pepper – seeded and diced

The Ssam sauce and the slaw are easy – for each simply mix together the listed ingredients. This can be done while the chicken mixture is cooking.

For the chicken, begin by heating the oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium to medium-high heat.

When the oil is hot, add the white onion and garlic, and saute for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the garlic is just slightly browning. Remove the onion and garlic to a bowl.

Add the chicken thighs and breasts (I slice the breasts in half for more even cooking) to the same pan, and brown them on each side. This takes about 6 minutes, turning once.

As the chicken is cooking, mix the onions and garlic with the remaining ingredients (not including the tortillas) in a bowl. Add this mixture to the browned chicken, and mix to coat.

Cover the pan and continue to cook the chicken mixture over medium to medium-low heat for about an hour, or until the meat can be easily shredded/pulled apart with two forks. Make sure to stir the mixture and flip the pieces every 5-10 minutes as the sauce reduces in order to ensure that it doesn’t burn.

Shred the chicken, stir it into the sauce, and continue to cook – uncovered – over low heat until you’re ready to eat.

Layer the tortillas with a smear of ssam sauce, a portion of chicken, and a dollop of slaw, and serve with a squeeze of fresh lime.