Tacos, burritos, nachos, guacamole, fajitas… What do all these dishes have in common? A certain set of ingredients and spices that give all of these dishes their typical Mexican food flavor.
Is there a difference between Mexican and southwestern cuisine? And is it the same as tex-mex? Technically, yes. But at the same time they have so much in common, that sometimes it’s hard to draw a distinctive line.
I’m not trying to make myself an expert in Mexican or southwestern cuisine. I will not tell you how to cook authentic Mexican dishes. But before you click or tap away, read this: I am simply giving you some guidelines on how to cook a dish southwestern or Mexican style.
What’s the difference between a cook and a chef? Both can skillfully prepare ingredients, but a chef knows how to combine different textures and flavors. With my tips you should be able to play with different combinations of ingredients making them taste like Mexican food.
Traditional Mexican food ingredients (or southwestern, or tex-mex)
It is used in all forms and shapes – from corn flour in chips and tortillas, to kernels in salsas, salads, soups, to even corn on the cob.
Corn is a grain, but it does not contain gluten – yay for gluten-free dishes! It is a rich source of whole grain carbs and fiber. Despite sweet corn containing a fairly large amount of sucrose, it has a low GI index, so it does not lead to spikes in blood sugar.
Most frequently kidney and black beans are used in Mexican food. These legumes are used in stews or added to salads, and of course used as stuffing for burritos and tacos.
Beans are an excellent cheap source of carbohydrates, protein and fiber. By the way, black beans contain significantly more of magnesium, potassium and vitamin B9 compared to kidney beans. In any way, both are helping lower the blood sugar.
In all sorts of forms: in sauces and dips (can you say “Mexican food” without saying “guacamole”?), in salad dressings, cubed and sliced in salads, tacos, burritos or small dices in salsa.
Avocados are ones of the best sources of healthy fats. It has more potassium than bananas, also contains magnesium, folate and other minerals and vitamins. It all promotes healthy heart.
Cilantro, or coriander
Fresh coriander leaves are used in salads or as garnish, sometimes added into stewed dishes. Cilantro stalks are often minced and added in the sauces.
Fresh coriander contains vitamins A, K, C and E alongside with calcium, magnesium and manganese. And it is a source of antioxidants.
Tomato based sauces or tomato salsa, halved cherry tomatoes or dices in salads. It’s probably hard to imagine Mexican food without this red vegetable.
You’ll get vitamins C and K, potassium and folate from tomatoes. Carotenoid pigment gives tomatoes their red color, and this makes tomatoes a source of antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene promotes healthy heart and prevents cancer.
Cumin, garlic powder, dry oregano and chili powder are the most frequently used spices. Often you will also find southwestern recipes calling for paprika, cinnamon and cloves. So if you come across a recipe listing fajita seasoning in its ingredient list, rest assured that it’s pretty much the mix of spices above.
Red onion, garlic cloves, rice, fresh chili and lime. It’s just a mere addition to the list above. Of course, it would be rather challenging to list all of the Mexican food ingredients in once simple list.
How to cook Mexican food
Now that you’ve got the base, you can simply use different combinations of these ingredients.
Corn + tomatoes + avocado + red onion – and you get a side dish salsa.
Need some more inspiration? Try out the burrito bowl!