Mexican Cooking Tips and Definitions of Mexican Food Terms

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What is a Molcajete
A Molcajete is a stone mortar used mostly to grind chiles for salsa. Originated in the state of Oaxaca. Molcajetes come in different shapes, one very popular in central Mexico is Pig Molcajete.

What is a Comal
A Comal is a large, round, flat, cast iron skillet used to blister chiles and make tortillas. Originated in the state of Oaxaca.

What is a Tortilla Press
A Tortilla Press is a device used to flatten balls of masa (corn meal dough) into thin patties to be briefly cooked for tortillas.

About Masa
Masa is made of dried corn kernels, ground and mixed with water and a little ground limestone. It is a thick dough that is then flattened into patties for tortillas, or stuffed with meat and spices or fruit to make tamales.

Making and Using Corn Tortillas
Bottom of tortilla Press is lined with plastic wrap. A ball of masa is placed in center of press and flattened. Tortilla is then flipped onto very hot griddle or comal and cooked.

Making and Using Flour Tortillas
Bottom of tortilla press is lined with plastic wrap. A ball of flour tortilla dough is placed in center of press and flattened. Tortilla is then flipped onto very hot griddle or comal and cooked.

About Chiles
There are reportedly over 60 varieties of chiles, chile peppers or hot peppers, ranging from very mild to fiery hot. Chiles are a key ingredient in most Mexican food dishes. All chiles derive their heat from oils concentrated in their seeds and membranes. The heat of a chile lasts six minutes before it dissipates.
Check the Mexican Food Video - Some Like It Hot: Cuisines of Chili Climates with Rick Bayless (VHS) Chiles - Mexican food video

How to Avoid Chile Pepper Irritation
Wear rubber gloves or even small plastic bags over your hands. Don’t touch your face or rub your eyes while handling hot peppers. Slit the chile lengthwise, rinse under running water, remove and discard stem, membranes and seeds. Chop or slice as directed in recipe. Wash hands and utensils thoroughly with hot, soapy water afterward. If your mouth is on fire, try a spoonful of sugar or a bit of salt and limejuice. The heat of a chile lasts six minutes before it dissipates.

Poblano Chiles
Poblanos peppers are used in Chiles Rellenos. They are dark green and about the size of a bell pepper, but tapered at one end. They can be mild or quite hot. They’re best fresh, but also available in cans.

Serrano Chiles
Serranos are hot! They’re about an inch and a half long and bright green and used frequently in salsas. They’re best fresh, but also available in cans.

Guero Chiles
Guero or gueritos chiles are small, yellow and tapered on the end. They’re sold either fresh or pickled and are medium-hot.

Anaheim, Green Chiles or California Chiles
They are light green, mild, medium-sized and tapered at the end.



Chipotle Chiles
Chipotles are made from jalapenos that have been dried and smoked. They are sold both dried and canned in adobo, or a rich, smoky, dark reddish-brown sauce. Their flavor is uniquely delicious.

Ancho Chiles
Anchos are dried dark red poblano chiles. They’re mildly flavored and used in many sauces. All dried red chiles are best if deveined, seeded and soaked in just enough hot water to cover them for about an hour. Afterward, put them in the blender with the water and add to your recipe.

Mulato Chiles
Mulato chiles or Mulatos are frequently used when ancho chiles are called for in a recipe. It’s deep brown, longer and more tapered than the ancho and is a bit more pungent. All dried red chiles are best if deveined, seeded and soaked in just enough hot water to cover them for about an hour. Afterward, put them in the blender with the water and add to your recipe.

Guajillo Chiles
Guajillo is a dried red chile that gives more color than taste to Mexican food recipes. It’s about four to five inches long, narrow and has a smooth skin. All dried red chiles are best if deveined, seeded and soaked in just enough hot water to cover them for about an hour. Afterward, put them in the blender with the water and add to your recipe.

Cola de Rata Chiles
The Cola de Rata or Rat-tail Chile is also known as the Chile de Arbol. It’s about the size of your little finger. These are often dried , toasted and used to decorate Mexican food dishes.

Chile de Arbol
Chile de Arbol is also known as the Cola de Rata. It’s about the size of your little finger. These are often dried , toasted and used to decorate Mexican food dishes.

Chilaca Chiles
Chilacas look and taste much like the anaheim, green chile, california and guayon chiles. They are a mild chile.

Pasilla Chiles
Pasilla or Pasillas are about seven inches long and very thin. They’re dark green like the ancho, but have more fire to them.

Jalapeno Chiles
Jalapenos or Jalapeños are the most recognizable and widely used of all Mexican chiles. Rarely do you see a Mexican table without a small bowl of jalapenos from a can, pickled in escabeche with carrots and onions. They are plump, about an inch or two in length, medium to dark green and fairly hot. They’re used as a condiment, in salsa and in many other dishes.

Pequin Chiles
Pequins or piquin peppers are tiny, dried red bullets of fiery heat. They add a unique flavor to many dishes. To use, crumble the dried pod between your thumb and forefinger. Piquin peppers are also called CHILITEPINS OR CHILTEPIN PEPPERS, tiny seedy red peppers used for seasoning in salsas in combinations with other chiles. They are also used in pickling. They are very, very hot!

Habanero Chiles
Habaneros are the hottest chiles in the world! Bright orange and looking like a tiny bell pepper, their flavor is delicious, if used sparingly. They are used widely throughout southern Mexico, particularly the Yucatan. Originally discovered by the Maya, they are said to have mystical healing powers and to impart a great sense of well-being.

About Salsa
Salsas or Salsa is the most basic dish in any Mexican food meal, often served as an appetizer with chips and used to jazz up everything from eggs to main courses. Salsas can be made from fresh, raw vegetables or cooked. Every Mexican food chef has their own particular way of making salsa. No two are ever alike! Basic ingredients are chiles, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and spices.

About Tomatillos
Tomatillos look a lot like tiny green tomatoes. They are actually a relative of the gooseberry family. They’re flavorful and used in many sauces, particularly salsa verde, or green sauces.

About Achiote
Achiote is a bright red paste made from ground annatto seeds, spices and lime juice or vinegar. It originated in the Yucatan and has been used by the Maya on fish, chicken and pork for centuries.

About Ceviche
Ceviche is made from raw fish, marinated until “cooked” in limejuice. It is then combined with tomatoes, onions, chiles and spices and served with chips or saltine crackers as an appetizer.

Blistering and Peeling Chiles for Chiles Rellenos
If you have a gas stove, lay the chiles over the open flame and char skins well, turning with tongs occasionally. The more charred they are, the easier it is to remove the skins. Put charred chiles into a plastic bag, close it and let it stand for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove chiles from the bag, place under running water and remove the skin, veins and seeds. If you have an electric stove, you can char chiles under the broiler.

Using Canned Chiles
When using Canned Chiles or Chile Peppers, be sure to rinse them, remove seeds and stems and pat dry with paper towels. Then use as you would fresh chiles that have been blistered in Mexican food recipes.

Stuffing Chiles
After the skin, stems and seeds have been removed from a charred fresh chile, or a whole chile straight from the can, make a slit in one side. Stuff with an appropriately sized piece of Monterey Jack cheese. The chile is now ready to be dipped in egg batter and fried.

About Avocados
Avocados are delicate, delicious and healthy fruits that are used to make guacamole, or sliced and served as a garnish to many Mexican food meals. They are oval in shape, with either a dark green, rough skin or a smooth medium-green skin. They must be used when they are slightly soft. Skin and peel, remove seed and use in your recipe as noted.

Buying Mexican Cheese
Mexicans do not use yellow cheese! For dishes calling for melted cheese, either Queso Monterey (Jack Cheese) or Queso Chihuahua are used. For a pungent, drier cheese to use as a garnish for tacos, guacamole and salads, try Queso Fresco.

About Cilantro
Also known as coriander, Cilantro is an herb used all over Mexico to jazz up salsa and other dishes. Its lively green color and equally lively flavor are a great enhancement to many dishes!

Preparing Dried Beans
To make frijoles, or refried beans, put desired quantity of dried kidney or black beans in a large pan. Cover with water and soak overnight. Drain and rinse. Add more water, to almost double the volume of beans. Cook until tender, season and serve.

Avoiding Tears with Onions
When cutting an onion, light a candle and place near your work area. The flame diminishes the potency of the chemical within the onion that causes you to cry.

Shredding Beef, Chicken or Pork
When beef, chicken or pork has been cooked until fork-tender, it’s ready to be shredded. Remove from pan, take two forks and tear the meat apart until it is in smaller than bite-sized pieces. Use in tacos, enchiladas or any other dish calling for shredded meat.

About Carne Asada
Carne Asada is made from skirt or flank steak, marinated in lime and orange juice with oregano, salt and onions. It is grilled in strips over a hot fire, then diced and served in either soft tacos or burritos with an array of Mexican food condiments.

About Carnitas
Carnitas, which originated in the state of Michoacan are made from pork simmered in fruit juices. Sometimes carnitas are baked in the oven; sometimes they are deep fried. They’re served in either soft tacos or burritos with an array of Mexican condiments.



About Chimichangas
Chimichangas are deep-fried meat-filled burritos.

About Flautas
Flautas are made from either corn or flour tortillas, filled with shredded beef or chicken, rolled into a thin cylinder and deep fried, and often topped with guacamole.

About Mole Sauce
Mole or mole sauce is a highly complex, dark sauce made from chiles, nuts, spices, fruits, vegetables, chocolate and seasonings. It takes a great deal of time and loving care to prepare and is served as a sauce in beef and chicken dishes for special occasions and holidays in Mexico. Mole Poblano, Mole verde, Pipian and Adobo are some other variations of mole.

About Menudo
Menudo is a robust, fairly spicy soup that is supposed to cure hangovers. Its key ingredients are tripe, hominy, onions and spices.

About Chicharrones
Chicharron or Chicharrones are deep fried pork rinds. They’re a favorite snack (like potato chips) in Mexico.

Warming Tortillas
Place fresh corn or flour tortillas in a clean towel and wrap to close. Place in microwave for about a minute per dozen, or less time if you’re heating up fewer tortillas. Leave in the towel until you serve them to keep them warm. You can also us a tortilla warmer.

About Tacos
There are two types of tacos: fried and soft. Both are made with corn tortillas. Fried tacos and lightly fried, folded in half and stuffed with either shredded beef or chicken. Then they’re topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and a little salsa fresca. Soft tacos are not fried. The tortillas are warmed and stuffed, with either carne asada (grilled, marinated steak), carnitas (pork) or fried fish.

About Burritos
Burritos are made using large, warmed flour tortillas. They are stuffed with guacamole, tomatoes, onions, beans, cheese and either carne asada (grilled, marinated steak), shredded beef or chicken, carnitas (pork), or fish.

About Fajitas
Fajitas are a fun, festive dish made with marinated steak, chicken, shrimp or mushrooms. They are then grilled on a sizzling hot skillet or comal with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and other chiles and served with flour tortillas burrito-style.

About Enchiladas
Enchilada or Enchiladas are made from corn tortillas, lightly fried in oil, then stuffed with cheese, onions and most frequently, shredded beef of chicken. They can be made vegetarian, or even stuffed with pork, shrimp or lobster. They are then rolled, heated and smothered in sauce, topped with melted cheese and sometimes sour cream.

About Tamales
Tamale or Tamales are made from masa dough filled with meat, vegetables and spices (or fruit) and wrapped in a corn husk (or banana leaf) and steamed until hot.

About Tortas
Tortas are Mexican sandwiches made from a bolillo (or hard Mexican roll) cut in half and layered inside with tomatoes, avocados or guacamole and carne asada, shredded beef or chicken, cheese and salsa.

About Tostadas
Tostadas are similar to fried tacos, except that they are served on a fried flat corn tortilla and topped with a layer of beans, shredded beef or chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, avocado and salsa.

About Tequila
Tequila is the national drink of Mexico. Originally created by the Maya in the form of pulque, a less potent drink made from the agave cactus, it was discovered by the Spaniards when they arrived in Mexico. After much experimenting with different types of agave, tequila was invented. It is made from the blue agave and is about 80 proof. Use Tequila shot glasses to drink Tequila.

About Margaritas
Margaritas are the national drink of Mexico. Made usually from equal parts tequila, Controy and fresh lime juice, they are served either blended with ice or on the rocks in a salt-rimmed glass.

Decorating for your Mexican Fiesta
To set an authentically Mexican mood, you’ll want to visit your local party store and pick out invitations and decorations from south of the border. Pick up as many plastic tablecloths as you think you’ll need. Choose bright colors, like purple, turquoise, hot pink and yellow. Get some paper napkins and small appetizer or dessert-sized paper plates to match. If you want to use plastic cups, stock up on them too. Look around. Many party stores stock Mexican wall decorations, colorful paper flowers, piñatas and centerpieces. Get about a dozen or two small votive candles and as many lunch sized brown paper sacks. On the day of the fiesta, you will fill each with some sand or soil, insert a candle and place two rows of “luminaries” along the walkway to your front door.

Selecting Music for your Mexican Fiesta
For music, visit you local store and ask the sales clerk for some recommendations on toe-tapping, lively Latin music. Linda Ronstadt’s Canciones de Mi Padre, any of Gloria Estefan’s music, Ricky Martin, Julio or Enrique Iglesias—all of these will help get your guests in the right mood.

Shopping for your Mexican Fiesta
A couple of days before the party, make your grocery list. Adjust each recipe according to the number of guests you’re expecting. Make anything you can a day ahead of time, if the recipe allows it. Make the rest of the food the “day of.”

Setting up your Mexican Fiesta
Before the party begins, set up your buffet and your bar. Serve each dish on your most festive, fun serving platters. Now, get dressed in a colorful outfit with some zany earrings (if you’re a woman!), fluff up your hair, turn on the tunes and get ready to have a blast! Remember, FIESTA spells good times for everyone!

Please visit our top Mexican food recipes section at Top Mexican food recipes




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