Learn which spices are essential for Mexican cooking, one of the most popular cuisines in the world.
of dried chilies the color of fire, baskets of exotic fruits and vegetables, stacks of tortillas and bowls of beige rice against black beans — Mexican cuisine is as exciting, colorful, and varied as the rich culture of its people. Lively and full of spice (sometimes fiery), Mexican cooking has become one of the most popular cuisines in the world.
While some good recipes will be indispensable to those just learning to cook, in true Mexican cooking exact measurements are seldom used. More often, it's "a little of this" and "a touch of that," guided by experimentation, a sense of adventure, and familiarity with ingredients that are the foundation of authentic Mexican dishes. With a good selection of Mexican spices and some standard pantry staples — grains, fruits, vegetables, tortillas, beans — you can whip up a Mexican dish anytime you like.
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Essential Spices for Mexican Cooking
The herbs and spices used in authentic Mexican cooking are quite distinctive, but fortunately most are readily available today. Experiment with small amounts and use seasonings to enhance dishes rather than overwhelm them.
See a list of the most important Mexican spices you'll want to keep on hand and delve deeper into those all-important hot chili peppers.
For a lively combination of Mexican spices, try a convenient Frontier blend like Mexican Seasoning, Taco Seasoning, Fajita Seasoning, Chili Seasoning, and Taco & Mexican Seasoning. Simply add your choice of blend directly to any dish. Chili, tacos, and fajitas are natural choices, but think about giving Mexican flair to that otherwise ordinary grain casserole, side of beans, or soup or salad, too!
Vanilla has been used in Mexican cooking since the 16th century. In Mexican kitchens, the sugar jar often contains a vanilla bean; it adds wonderful aroma and flavor to the sugar and keeps the bean dry.
Used by Mexican cooks in sauces like mole poblano and pipian, sesame seeds add a nutty taste to salads and main dishes, too. Simply toast in a dry skillet, stirring until lightly browned.
Fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes make for terrific Mexican fare, but dried tomatoes are great to stock year-round and add rich tomato flavor when grocery tomatoes are less than prime.
We've got all the gadgets you'll need to start your Mexican cooking extravaganza, from mortars and pestles to tortilla warmers and nutmeg graters.
As you begin to explore Mexican cooking, you'll soon discover that this cuisine, like that of most countries, offers tremendous regional diversity in ingredients and flavors. You may find that you especially enjoy certain regional cuisines of Mexico.
Central: Central Mexican cuisine features a variety of herbs, spices and chilies, blending the flavors of native Indian dishes with other recipes that show strong Spanish influences.
Coastal: Fish and seafood are primary ingredients in dishes from the coastal region, which also incorporate European and tropical influences. Regional ingredients such as native herbs, tomatoes, olives and plantains are often featured.
Northern: Northern Mexican cuisine is bold and smoky, combining a variety of grilled meats, poultry and fish with other fire-roasted ingredients.
Southern: Foods from the Southern region of Mexico are full-flavored native Indian dishes that combine dried peppers with complementary sweeter spices, such as cinnamon and cloves.
Western: Enchiladas, tacos, fried pork, red sauces, salsas and chilies comprise the traditional cuisine of Western Mexico. Oh, and another regional favorite? Tequila!
Yucatan: The Yucatan was originally inhabited by the Mayans, and traditional Yucatan cooking still exhibits a strong Mayan influence. Popular ingredients include cinnamon, cilantro, cloves and achiote (annatto seed), which is commonly used to make achiote paste, used in moles, tamales, stews, rice dishes, meats and seafood. Foods from the Yucatan often demonstrate exotic tropical influences and offer a wide range of flavors and textures.