I have very fond memories from childhood of my mother cooking in the kitchen traditional Spanish and Mexican dishes. Associated with those memories are a host of sensory impressions, most prominent being smell. Her cooking would fill the whole house with delicious scents emanating from the main ingredients in Mexican food that were always present in our home.
Main Ingredients in Mexican Food
For anyone who doesn’t already know I am pleased to bring you the most important ingredients (at least in my opinion) in traditional Mexican food.
If you do not have avocados stocked in your pantry you are missing out on a host of delicious Mexican dishes. Avocados most prominently are used to make guacamole. I remember my mother’s homemade guacamole. She used 5-8 avocados, added diced onions a little sugar and lime juice. Of course, guacamole can also be used as a topping for many traditional Mexican foods such as tortas.
While tomatoes may be an important staple the world over, the Mexican use of tomatoes reaches into almost every dish which is why it is on this list. Personally, my mother used tomatoes to make her Spanish rice. She also included it in tortilla soup, steak picado and even her guacamole.
The thing I like most about Mexican food is that it is spicy but not esophageal erosion spicy. One of the secrets to attaining this perfect balance of spice, mildness and flavor is the use of poblano chilies. They can be used in a variety of ways but I remember them being used mainly in homemade salsas and chili rellenos.
I may be overstating a concept that is fundamentally simple but in my opinion, limes make all Mexican foods better. In my house, limes were usually chopped into quarters and served on a small dish on the dinner table for everyone to grab and squeeze onto their food as they wished.
One of the best uses for limes from my childhood home was to squeeze a whole quarter slice’s worth of lime juice into my mother’s Albondigas (meatball soup).
If you have ever eaten a Mexican dish in your life you probably know how important queso is to Mexican cuisine. Take for example the Enchilada. An enchilada is like Mexican lasagna and it relies heavily on cheese.
My sister makes some killer enchiladas and her cheese of choice is queso fresco. It gives the dish a bit of natural saltiness and melts to perfection. Pepperjack cheese was also a pretty common cheese in my home growing up for making quesadillas. It added a good level of spiciness…before tapatío was inevitably added of course. Last but not in any way least…
I couldn’t think of any food more essential to Mexican cuisine or any better way to round off this list than the all-important tortilla. My mother use to tell me stories about growing up poor in Los Angeles and how her mother, no matter how bad things were would always have tortillas in the house. She would give my mom and my aunts and uncle flour tortillas adorned with nothing more than melted butter when things were especially tight.
Tortillas are more than a staple food for the poor of course. My mom never made her own but she always went to tortillerías to buy freshly made corn and flour tortillas. I remember using flour tortillas to sop up the juices from steak picado, scooping up Spanish rice with sour cream into a tortilla, and dousing a corn tortilla with the broth from my mother’s albondigas.
Tortillas are indispensible ingredients in enchiladas and of course tacos and burritos as well as other traditional Mexican dishes that I am sure I am forgetting.
Well there you have it; my list of the most important ingredients in Mexican cuisine. For more information on other main ingredients in Mexican food, check out this article about Mexican Chocolate.