Mex-Mex Dinner Fiesta

Dinner Parties, Entertain, Menu Ideas, Menus

This post comes to us courtesy of food writer and registered dietitian Joy Zacharia.


They like me. They really, really like me! But it’s not always my winning personality that garners solid yeses when I invite my peeps over for a dinner party — it’s the assurance of a unique, flavor-packed meal.


Recently I took my better half to my favorite Mexican supermarket for inspiration. We filled up the cart with everything we needed for a Mex-Mex dinner fiesta (meaning, completely authentic, no nacho cheese in this spread). Our first stop was for loads of colorful produce, then we headed to the meat department for freshly made, nicely seasoned chorizo and perfect-for-melting Oaxaca cheese.


My groceries were so affordable that I felt a little guilty. For $69 I created a feast for ten — and we had leftovers! Seeing the variety of unique ingredients through my guy’s eyes made me appreciate the melting pot that is the U.S.A.


On the Menu

Choriqueso (Melted Oaxaca Cheese with Chorizo)

Salsa de Aguacate (Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa)

Pollo con Mole (Chicken with Mole Sauce)

Frijoles Refritos (Refried Black Beans)

Arroz con Jitomate (Mexican-Style Rice)

Salsa Fresca (Fresh Tomato Salsa)

Orange-Lime Margaritas

Tortillas (flour and/or corn)


Melted Oaxaca Cheese with Chorizo


Look for fresh pork chorizo in your local Mexican market. This style of chorizo is seasoned with spices, chiles and garlic, and has a deep red color. The mixture is stuffed into fresh pork casings. You will only use the filling for this recipe. If you can’t find Oaxaca cheese, choose whole-fat mozzarella cheese, which works perfectly here. Serve in warm flour or corn tortillas and top with Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa and/or Fresh Tomato Salsa.


2 lb. fresh Mexican-style pork chorizo in casings

2 lb. Oaxaca cheese


Preheat an oven to 375°F.


To remove the chorizo from the casings, cut into the casings lengthwise, then peel the casings away from the filling; discard the casings.


In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, cook the chorizo until it crumbles and is thoroughly cooked, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain on layers of paper towels, patting dry to remove the excess fat.


Cut the cheese into 1-inch cubes. Place the cheese and drained chorizo in an oven-safe deep fry pan or baking dish and stir to combine. Cover and bake, stirring once, until the cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.


Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa


Tomatillos are fruits surrounded by an inedible, paper-like husk. Choose firm and bright green tomatillos with a papery husk. Tomatillos may look like little green tomatoes, but they’re actually related to cape gooseberries. I use California avocados, which are small and have a dark brownish-black, bumpy skin. They have a lower water content than the large, light green Florida avocados. Do not make the salsa more than one day ahead as it will darken in color.


5 ripe avocados

7 tomatillos, husks removed

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 small onion

1 habanero pepper or 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded

1/2 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup loosely packed leaves)

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

2 Tbs. fresh lime juice (1 lime)


Cut an avocado lengthwise in half and remove the large pit. Using a tablespoon, remove the pulp and place in the bowl of a food processor. Repeat with the remaining avocados.


Rinse the husked tomatillos throughly with water to remove the soapy film. Cut the tomatillos into quarters and place in the food processor with the avocado pulp. Add the garlic, onion, habanero, cilantro, salt and lime juice and process until smooth. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Makes 4 cups.


Chicken with Mole Sauce


Classic Mexican mole, pronounced MOH-leh, is a thick, rich, chile-based sauce prepared differently depending on the region. No matter the region, mole is a labor of love as it contains a dozen or more ingredients and is time-consuming to prepare. This recipe starts with a jar of mole paste, which I embellish with a few ingredients for added flavor. Mole is sold in all Mexican markets as well as in the Latin food section of some large supermarkets. I used a large roasting hen for this recipe. Chicken thighs and legs impart a rich, meaty flavor to the dish, but if you prefer white meat, buy 3 pounds of bone-in chicken breasts.


1 chicken, about 4 lb., cut up

2 celery stalks, halved

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 small onion, quartered

2 Tbs. plus 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded if desired, and chopped

1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

1 jar (16.75 oz.) mole, such as Doña Maria, drained

2 Tbs. light or dark brown sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground red pepper

Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)


Place the chicken, celery, garlic, quartered onion and the 2 Tbs. salt in a large Dutch oven. Add water to cover the chicken. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Uncover, reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is done, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth and let cool slightly. Remove and discard the skin. Remove the meat from the bones, discarding the bones; set the meat aside. Strain the chicken broth and set aside 8 cups broth.


Preheat an oven to 325°F.


In an oven-safe Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté the chopped onion and jalapeño in olive oil until the onion is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the mole paste and 2 cups of the reserved broth, pressing the paste with a wooden spoon and stirring to incorporate the paste into the broth. Add the broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring until the mixture is mostly smooth. Add the remaining broth, the brown sugar, the 1/2 tsp. salt, the cinnamon and ground red pepper, stirring until smooth. Stir in the reserved chicken meat.


Cover the pot, transfer to the oven and bake for 45 minutes, stirring once. Instead of baking the chicken mixture, you may cover the pot and cook it on the stovetop over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon the mixture into a deep dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. Serves 8 to 10.


Refried Black Beans


I’ve been preparing this recipe for decades and while most folks give it a thumbs up, nobody loves my refried beans as much as my guy does. He requests them along with Mexican-style rice weekly. If you’ve got leftover beans, try this Mexico City breakfast favorite. Cut a 4- to 6-inch piece of French bread lengthwise in half. Spread the cut sides lightly with butter or margarine. Cook the halves, cut side down, in a fry pan over medium-high heat until golden; spread with Refried Black Beans. Sprinkle with shredded Oaxaca or mozzarella cheese; broil on high until the cheese melts and the top is golden. Top with homemade or bottled salsa.


1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)

1/2 bell pepper, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 cans (each 26.5 oz.) black beans, undrained

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 Tbs. hot sauce

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper


In a Dutch oven or large, deep fry pan, sauté the onion and bell pepper in the oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the beans, vinegar, hot sauce, cumin, oregano, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low. Mash the bean mixture with a potato masher until thick (the mixture will be lumpy). Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serves 8 to 10.


Mexican-Style Rice


The key to perfectly cooked, fluffy rice is the ratio of rice to liquid. I use 1 1/2 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of rice. For a meat-free version, use vegetable broth. Before adding the salt, taste the cooking liquid. If it is a little salty, do not add the salt. If the mixture is bland, add the salt (before adding the rice).


1 plum tomato

1/4 small onion

1 garlic clove

2 cups long-grain rice

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

3 cups chicken broth

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt


Place the tomato, onion and garlic in a food processor and process until smooth. (Measure out 1/2 cup of the tomato mixture.)


In a saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté the uncooked rice in the oil until the rice is opaque, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato mixture and sauté until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir in the broth and bring to a boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer over low heat until all the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir once, cover and remove from the heat. Serves 8 to 10.


Fresh Tomato Salsa


5 large plum tomatoes, chopped

1/2 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

2 Tbs. fresh lime juice (juice of 1 lime)

2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. kosher salt


In a large bowl, stir together the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice, olive oil and salt. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Makes about 4 cups.


Orange-Lime Margaritas


To serve, dip the rims of the glasses into orange juice, then dip in coarse salt. Serve the margaritas over ice.


2 cans (each 12 oz.) frozen limeade concentrate, thawed

2 tsp. grated orange rind (rind of 1 orange)

1/4 cup fresh orange juice (juice of 1 orange)

2 tsp. grated lime rind (rind of 2 limes)

6 Tbs. fresh lime juice (juice of 3 limes)

1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Cointreau

5 cups water

1 to 1 1/2 cups tequila


In a large pitcher, stir together the limeade concentrate, orange rind, orange juice, lime rind, lime juice, liqueur, water and tequila. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serves 8 to 10.


About the author: Joy, a registered dietitian, developed a love of food and cooking at age 10 while living in Mexico City when she opted to help peel, chop and shred for elaborate Mexican feasts instead of going outside to play with kids her own age. Joy’s Spanish-Jewish roots cultivated a passion for world food, such as Turkish, Israeli, and Cuban, but her familial struggle with weight led to a career in nutrition. The combination enabled her to embrace the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet without forfeiting amazing flavor. Joy was an associate food editor for magazines such as Southern Living and Cooking Light, developed recipes for Natural Health magazine and various food companies.

7 comments about “Mex-Mex Dinner Fiesta

  1. Karla

    Just wanted to say that Joy Zacharia is the best cook and dietitian out there…. you need to check all her recipes and see how you like them…. i am one of her nieces….. but if you want Excellent food that is healthy for you also this is the way to go…. follow what she says and you will do great!!!! Anytime we have family gatherings she always makes the best stuff… and you wouldn’t even know it was good for you…. because it tastes so good!!!! Believe me i have been in the family for 14 years now, and it has been an amazing food adventure with her and the family i have tried so many different things i would have never tried before, and that’s coming from a picky eater to begin with….. now i try everything…. because i know now it’s going to look and taste Great. Great job aunt Joy… Keep up the good work!!!!

  2. Carly Craig

    What a spread! This looks amazing……definitely going to try the the choriqueso. Great tip about shopping in the Mexican grocery by the way. Seems like a smart economic choice as well as authentic.

  3. Lisa Z

    I have eaten all of these dishes prepared by Joy Zacharia and I don’t have enough words to describe the depth of pleasure I have experienced with her cooking. She is the Mexi-Master!

  4. Gina

    I was fortunate enough to be present for this feast and it was awesome! Muy fantastico! Te amo, Joy! YOU ROCK!

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