Must Have Mexican Ingredients for Your Pantry

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/JADTHREE
These are little green tomatoes with husks—only they're really not tomatoes, but are related to the gooseberry.

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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