Must Have Mexican Ingredients for Your Pantry

Stock up on these Mexican ingredients for your pantry so you can create delicious Mexican food in a snap. Includes names and descriptions of essential Mexican ingredients.
By Anne Vassal
April/May 1997
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These are little green tomatoes with husks—only they're really not tomatoes, but are related to the gooseberry.

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These must have Mexican ingredients for your pantry will help you create authentic Mexican dishes anytime of the week. 

The following Mexican ingredients for your pantry can be found at either a large supermarket in the ethnic food aisle or at a Hispanic grocery. If you live in a rural area, plan to shop for the ingredients the next time you visit a good-size town.

Cilantro : It's often called Mexican parsley and adds a fresh, spicy flavor to food, as well as color. The leaves should be bright green and dry without any slime. Store in the refrigerator in a glass with an inch of water, and cover with a plastic bag. It will keep for about a week.

Cheese (Queso): Chihuahua is a common melting cheese similar to Muenster or Monterey Jack. Anejo cheese is what you see crumbled on top of your restaurant enchiladas. It's an aged, dry cheese similar to feta that's suitable for crumbling, not melting.

Jicama: This is an ugly, tan-colored root vegetable with a crunchy, white interior. Jicama can be used in salads, stir-fry vegetables, or just for munching. It first must be peeled, and will soften slightly when cooked. Select a firm jicama, avoiding shriveled ones with mold.,When sliced open, the interior should be moist and sweet, not woody. (If you get a bad one, return it.)

Jalapeno: This is a fat green or dark green chile that's about 1 1/2-2 inches long. On the hot scale, I'd say that it registers medium-hot, but it varies. Our homegrown red jalapenos are much hotter than the store variety. Always wear rubber or surgical gloves when removing the stems and seeds from chiles. (The seeds are the hottest part.) The chile oil doesn't wash off—I found out after ruining a pair of contact lenses. Canned jalapenos can be substituted but there's nothing like the real thing. Peppers can be frozen in sealed plastic bags for later use.

Poblano: This slightly hot chile resembles a green pepper. Look for firm poblanos without shriveled skin or soft spots. They'll only keep about a week in the refrigerator so roast and freeze them if you're not going to use them.

Tomatillos: These are little green tomatoes with husks—only they're really not tomatoes, but are related to the gooseberry. Look for green tomatillos that are firm without soft spots. It doesn't matter if the husks are shriveled and slightly browned, but they shouldn't smell bad. Store in a paper bag, not plastic. Large supermarkets such as Omni carry them but if you can't find them fresh, tomatillos do come in cans. (If you must resort to canned, drain off the liquid and add a pinch of sugar.)

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