A Guide to Mexican Cooking
Like many national cuisines, Mexico’s food culture evolved gradually over history, taking influence from a range of different cultures.
The most well-known Mexican food that’s made it to our shores has been influenced by the USA: Tex-Mex. These dishes are often comforting, cheese-laden classics like fajitas and chilli con carne. They’re delicious, but a million miles away from indigenous Mexican food. It’s the 300-year Spanish occupation of Mexico that has shaped modern Mexican cuisine the most, bringing rice, spices such as cumin and ground coriander to create dishes that were more familiar and palatable for the influx of Spanish immigrants.
Today, Mexican food has evolved to become a wonderful mix of Mexican cooking techniques with strong European influences – it’s a mix that features in lots of Gousto’s Mexican influenced dishes. Find out more about the main ingredients of Mexican cooking below, and learn some of the cooking techniques we use to make the most of the great flavours in Mexican cooking.
Essential Mexican Ingredients
Before you get cooking any Mexican recipe you’ll want to be clued up about a these key ingredients in Mexican cooking:
We like to use small ones in our recipes as they’re easier to handle, but tortillas can come in all shapes and sizes. Whether corn or flour, they can vary enormously in quality. Chef Alice tells us that when made fresh and served warm on the streets of Mexico, nothing can beat them. We’re really proud of the ones we provide in recipes like our Pork & Black Bean Tacos with Apple Slaw recipe – after extensive research we think they could even rival the ones you find in Mexico!
Poblano peppers are like green peppers only shinier, darker and thinner skinned. They originate from the city of Pueblo in Mexico, and add a bitter note to balance out flavours in stews and salsas. While they’re normally very mild, the occasional one has been known to pack an unexpected punch of spiciness, so be warned!
Chipotle chillies are frequently smoked and dried before being used. Their natural flavour, combined with this process, brings an umami flavour and a whisper of smoky depth to Mexican sauces such as moles. We supply chipotle paste, as it’s a little less hassle to use in recipes like our Chipotle & Coriander Lime Chicken.
Mexico is all about limes, not lemons. In fact, they’re the second biggest producers of limes in the world (after India). A squeeze of one of these little green wonders will bring freshness and zing to a Mexican feast, like in the lime mayo in our Sticky Chilli Beef Burritos recipe.
Typically you’d use ‘crema’ or sour cream and ‘queso fresco’ – similar to feta cheese – in Mexican cooking. However, in an emergency yoghurt and feta aren’t bad substitutes! Another really popular Mexican cheese that’s frequently used in quesadillas is Oaxaca (pronounced ‘waa-ha-ka’), which is a little like Monterey Jack or even mozzarella. Give the cheese and sour cream combination a try with our Veggie Chilli with Brown Rice recipe.
Black, pinto, mixed, kidney… beans are one of the staples of Mexican cooking, and each bean has its place depending on the dish. Try mashing them and stir-frying for the famous ‘refried beans’ – we do this with red kidney beans in our Refried Bean & Corn Quesadillas Recipe.
These buttery, hearty favourites provide a cooling, creamy yet nutritious side to all things Mexican. They’re great for balancing the spiciness of chipotle sauces, especially when used to make guacamole, and also full of good, healthy fats to leave you bursting with energy.
Mexican Cooking Techniques
- Pulled shredded chicken:
Shredded chicken is perfect for soaking up strong-flavoured sauces like the rich, nutty mole in our Green and Black’s Chicken Mole recipe. For the cooked chicken to shred easily it needs to be tender – poaching a chicken breast it in a covered saucepan with water or sauce is the best way to ensure this. Once cooked, use two forks or a knife and fork to pull the chicken apart. If you’ve cooked it in a sauce, shred the chicken straight into the sauce.
- Tortilla shards:
Tortillas are more versatile than you might expect… Try making them into crispy ‘shards’ (think giant nachos) perfect for dunking and scooping, as we’ve done in our Smoky Cowboy Bean Bowl recipe. Simply preheat an oven to 200°C/ 180°C (fan)/ 400°F/ Gas 6, cut your tortillas in half (if they’re large then quarters might be better), pop them on a baking tray and cover them with a drizzle of olive oil and a big pinch of salt, then bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until they’re golden and crispy.
- Chipotle mayo:
A Gousto favourite, chipotle mayo is as simple as it is satisfying. Combine tablespoon of smoky chipotle paste with a sachet of mayonnaise (26ml – a little more than a tablespoon) a drizzle of olive oil and a tablespoon of boiled water. Give everything a good mix up, then season with salt and pepper for a sauce that’s a great dip and even better drizzled in tortilla wraps.
- Pickled red onion:
A perfect accompaniment to rich, meaty dishes, pickled red onions cut through heavier flavours with their sweet but sharp taste. Add 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water to a pan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Meanwhile, slice 1/4 of a red onion as thinly as possible and place the slices in a small bowl. Once the vinegar mixture is boiling, pour this over the onion slices and leave them to pickle for at least 20 minutes. When they are ready, pour off the vinegar and use the pickled onions as a garnish, as in our Pork & Black Bean Tacos with Apple Slaw recipe.
- Tomato salsa:
You can’t beat a simple tomato salsa for a fresh, quick and easy addition to a Mexican influenced dish like our Crispy Prawn Tacos with Coriander Mayo. Combine a finely diced shallot with a diced tomato, a bunch of finely chopped coriander and the juice of half a lime, then season generously with salt and pepper and give everything a thorough mix – this is your simple tomato salsa!
Taquitos are filled tacos that are rolled up, cigar-like. Preheat an oven to 220°C/ 200°C (fan)/ 425°F/ Gas 7, then when you’ve filled your tortilla with whatever you want (we’ve used some gorgeous vegetarian fillings in our Feta & Sweet Potato Taquitos recipe) place them side-by-side, seam faced-down in tray and bake them for 8 minutes, or until they start to brown around the edges. Crunchy, warm and filled with Mexican flavour!
Are you a fan of Mexican cooking? Let us know in the comments! If you’re looking for more Mexican recipe ideas, take a look at our 5 Mexican Recipes for Cinco de Mayo post.