Cinco de Mayo Rice Salad

There are two big American holidays I make a point to celebrate during the year. And I’m not talking about Christmas and Easter, which are GREAT of course and obviously celebrated, but these aren’t exactly American holidays since they are worldwide celebrations centering around the Christian calendar. And I’m not talking about Independance Day, as fun and important as that one is, because that’s during the summer and as a teacher I’m always referring to an *academic* year whenever I say “during the year.”

No, in fact, the two big American holidays I’m talking about are Thanksgiving … and Cinco de Mayo. You know, Cinco de Mayo? The day that Americans get together to celebrate Mexican food.

OK, I’m being snarky, but growing up in Southern California I always assumed certain facts about Cinco de Mayo– I assumed that everyone celebrated it, and I assumed that it was a Mexican Independence Day. As it turns out, it is celebrated more in Southern California than even in Mexico, and it has about as much to do with Mexican independence from Spain as St. Patrick’s Day does with Irish independence from the U.K. But also like St. Patrick’s Day, these facts have not stopped anyone ever from finding a new excuse for a party and a beer.

No matter what part of the world I happen to be in during the year, I will try to make Thanksgiving and Cinco happen, one dinner party for the fall, one outdoor barbecue in the spring.

Cinco de Mayo Rice Salad

Cinco de Mayo Rice Salad

6 cups cooked rice, cooled to room temperature or chilled
1 large yellow bell pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1/2 cucumber, diced
3-4 sprigs cilantro (about 2-3 tbsp. chopped)
Zest from 1 lime
Juice from 1 lime
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. pimentón (smoked paprika)

Step one: Prepare the rice as directed, then cool in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or even overnight.

Step two: Dice all the vegetables, finely chop the cilantro. Zest and juice the lime.

Step three: Toss it all together with the olive oil and lime juice.

Step four: Fold in some freshly cracked sea salt and the pimentón.

Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

The pimentón gives the rice a spicy, smokey flavor kind of like a chipotle, while the rice and cucumber gives you a cooling taste. The combination is wonderful, and complements the main dish of your barbecue which is likely spicy and fiery and hot.

The pimentón itself, however, is a new addition for this year. Last year, I tried dicing some hot red chili peppers to add the heat (discarding the seeds of course) and the year before that I had some leftover chipotles that I pat dry to remove any excess adobo sauce and added to the rice salad. The pimentón was a nice in-between of the two, but as a spice it colored all of the rice a bit orange, and I like salad just as much for its visuals — white, red, green, and yellow — as its taste.

Feel free to make it as spicy or as cooling as you need for your table, and give it a try!