Estimated reading time: 17 minutes
Mexican cuisine is renowned for its vibrant flavours, bold spices, and diverse range of dishes that cater to all taste preferences. If you’re just starting to explore the world of Mexican food, the myriad of ingredients and their uses may seem overwhelming. Fear not, as this beginner’s guide will introduce you to some of the must-have elements in Mexican cuisine. With these essential ingredients, you’ll embark on a culinary adventure, creating authentic, delicious Mexican dishes right in your own kitchen.
In this guide, we will explore the key ingredients used in Mexican cuisine, highlight popular dishes, and provide authentic recipes. If you have any questions or need further information, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. We would be delighted to assist you.
Ingredients Used In Mexican Food
Avocados, originating from Mexico, are the quintessential ingredient that epitomizes Mexican cuisine. When it comes to capturing the essence of Mexican food, nothing surpasses the delightful allure of homemade Guacamole. For an irresistible recipe, check out
Made using tomatillos, Salsa Verde is really the workhouse of Mexican cuisine. Green in colour and slightly tart you will find salsa verde in every Mexican meal. Our favourite way to use it might be this Pork In Salsa Verde Tacos.
Rice is another staple of everyday meals in Mexico. Arroz Rojo, also known as red rice or Mexican rice, is the most common type of rice you will find. Our favourite way to enjoy is as a meal on its own with a crispy fried egg on top.
Beans are a fundamental ingredient in Mexican cuisine, providing a great source of protein and fibre. Canned or dried pinto, black, and kidney beans find their way into burritos, tostadas, soups, and traditional bean dishes like frijoles refritos (refried beans).
Corn is a staple crop in Mexico, forming the basis for iconic dishes such as tortillas, tamales, and cornbread. Corn masa flour, made from dried corn kernels, is used to make tortillas, which are then used as a vessel for other ingredients or can be fried to make crispy taco shells.
Whether it’s tortillas, tamales or our favourite way to eat – slathered in chipotle mayo like the kind you will find from street vendors in Mexico City, corn is a really delicious part of Mexican cuisine.
Tortilla wraps are an essential component of Mexican cuisine, serving as the vessel for all the delectable ingredients discussed below. It is impossible to experience Mexican food without the presence of these versatile and flavorful carriers.
There are really two things you need to know about them and that is they are either made with wheat or corn and they are either big or small.
Whether the wraps are corn or wheat largely depends on what part of Mexico you are in. Central and Southern Mexico is corn and Northern Mexico is wheat. This is down to what the locally grown crop is.
Outside of Mexico wheat tortillas tend to be more popular as they are softer and easier to cook with (they don’t break). It’s for this reason that wheat tortillas are used for Burritos.
One of the largest debates surrounding Mexican cuisine is whether to go with corn or wheat. But really it doesn’t matter. They are both equally delicious so it’s really down to what you personally prefer.
Chilli peppers are an indispensable part of Mexican cuisine, adding depth and heat to dishes.
The most commonly used varieties include jalapenos, serranos, poblanos, and chipotles.
Experimenting with different types of chilli peppers will allow you to achieve various levels of spiciness and flavour profiles.
You can find here the full list of Mexican Chillies.
Tomatoes are a staple in many Mexican dishes, serving as a base for salsas, sauces, and stews. Both fresh and canned tomatoes are used, with the latter providing a depth of flavour in traditional Mexican cooking.
Tomatoes were introduced to Mexico by the Spanish in the 16th century. They quickly became popular, and today they are an essential part of Mexican cuisine.
There are many different varieties of tomatoes grown in Mexico, each with its own unique flavour and texture.
Cheese varieties like queso fresco, queso blanco, and cotija are commonly used in Mexican cuisine. They bring a creamy, tangy, or crumbly texture to dishes.
Queso fresco is often sprinkled over salads or used as a topping for tacos, while cotija adds a distinct salty touch to dishes like Elotes (grilled corn). If you are new to Mexican cuisine, we recommend starting with the above-mentioned cheeses.
They are all relatively easy to find and can be used in a variety of dishes. As you become more familiar with Mexican cuisine, you can experiment with other types of cheese.
Popular Mexican Dishes
When we think about authentic Mexican food the first word that comes to mind is usually tacos. Tortillas are the everyday bread of Mexican food and just about everything gets wrapped up to make a taco. Tacos are eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Tacos have been around for centuries in Mexican cuisine and stood the test of time.
Read More About Tacos
What Makes Up A Taco?
When it comes to the various types of tacos, two distinct differences can be observed. The first disparity lies in the choice of tortilla, specifically between corn and flour. Corn tortillas are commonly associated with the southern region of Mexico, while the northern part predominantly embraces the use of flour tortillas.
The second main difference between the variations of tacos is the filling. Tacos generally have a single filling and there are quite a wide variety of fillings to choose from.
With the increasing number of plant-based eaters, there has been a proliferation of even vegan tacos, much to the dismay of the more conservative meat-eating Mexicans.
Different Types Of Tacos
In our Guide to Tacos we delve deeper into the different popular tacos by region but here are a few of the highlights:
Carnitas: these are most commonly found on the street stalls, and are the cheapest version made with different cuts of pork and cooked with lard and various spices.
Al Pastor: the king of the tacos, made with pork meat or veal normally cooked over coal.
Barbacoa: (barbeque tacos) made with different types of meat cooked on the BBQ either with lemon juice or steamed. Different types of meat can be used, from goat to chicken, rabbit or fish.
Next, in our guide to Authentic Mexican Food, we have burritos. The main difference between tacos and burritos is the size of the tortilla used and how many you eat! Tacos are small and open, and you might need 3 or 4 to satisfy your appetite. A burrito, on the other hand, has a much larger tortilla and a variety of fillings. Certainly, a single burrito would make up a meal.
Burritos are made with flour tortillas as corn would break with the size of a tortilla. The ends of the soft flour tortilla are folded in and then it’s rolled closed. Inside, you will often find meat along with rice and beans for a hefty all-in-one.
Our recipe for a Chicken Burrito has tender slow-cooked chicken with Chipotle Paste for a delicious smoky flavour.
Read More About Burritos
The term Fajitas refers to the filling. They originally contained sizzling strips of steak, but now you will find fajitas with just about every variation of protein. They always contain peppers and onions though.
If you do want a meat-free version, check out our Veggie Fajitas recipe. The fun with fajitas is that you make your own, so can build them just how you want them!
Read More About Fajitas
Next up in this guide to Mexican cuisine are Quesadillas! When it comes to Quesadillas, it’s all about the melted cheese. For a quesadilla, you fill a tortilla with cheese and toast in a hot pan until the cheese melts. You can add other fillings such as carne asada steak, chicken or veggies.
In Mexico, Queso Oaxaca is used which is a stringy cheese. As Queso Oaxaca can be quite hard to find, we recommend using a good melting cheese such as gruyere, gouda, or cheddar.
Read More About Quesadillas:
Enchiladas are smothered in sauce and melted cheese and are meant to be eaten with a knife and fork. Flour tortillas are filled with meat or cheese and rolled up, with a sauce which can be green, red or white poured over the top and sprinkled with shredded cheese that is then melted in the oven.
Our Enchilada Cooking Sauce with tomatillo and jalapeño make it easy to make delicious Easy Chicken Enchiladas. If you have more time though, our Slow Cooked Chicken Enchiladas with a red sauce is a major crowd-pleaser.
Read More About Enchiladas
Next on our list of the Beginner’s Guide to Mexican Food is Nachos. Nachos use lightly salted tortilla chips which are tortillas that have been cut into triangles and quickly fried. Served with melted cheese and a variety of toppings. A great dish to make when entertaining, as a snack or starter.
In Mexico a common dish for breakfast is chilaquiles. These are a form of breakfast nachos. Normally made with Salsa Verde and topped with a fried egg they are defiantly worth a try!
Tostadas have a crunchy, fried flat tortilla as a base. You will typically find tostadas spread with refried beans, cheese, and shredded lettuce and then topped with any variety of meat, veggies and salsa. Another popular and quite different variation is the Tuna Tostada made with delicious tuna ceviche, fried leeks and a good dollop of our Chipotle Mayo.
Mexican breakfasts are epic, and definitely one of the many meal highlights when travelling in Mexico! There are so many delicious and flavourful breakfast recipes to try including our favourites Huevos Rancheros and Chilaquiles.
Embarking on a Mexican culinary adventure can be an exciting and rewarding experience. By familiarizing yourself with essential ingredients like chilli peppers, tomatoes, corn, lime, Mexican cheese, cumin, and Mexican chocolate, you have a solid foundation to create delicious Mexican dishes. Experimenting with these ingredients will open up a world of flavours and introduce you to the vibrant and diverse cuisine of Mexico. So, put on your apron, gather your ingredients, and get ready to impress your taste buds and loved ones with your newfound skills in Mexican cooking. Be sure to tag us #granluchito and happy cooking from all of us! Buen provecho!