The Secret to Cooking Mexican Food

MOTHER's kitchen shares the secret to cooking Mexican food, including recipes for: chicken enchiladas with salsa verde, refried beans, red rice, jicama and orange salad and Mexican coffee.

| April/May 1997

Learn the secret to cooking Mexican food, including Mexican recipes for chicken enchiladas, refried beans, red rice, jicama salad and Mexican coffee. 

Before I moved to an area in Illinois with a great local market, I thought that Mexican food was a meat-bean-tortilla thing that I occasionally ate at the nearby shopping mall. And salsa? It was that meek and mild tomatoey bottled stuff used for chip dunking. Fortunately, I left my small Michigan town to discover that ignorance isn't bliss when it comes to Mexican food. Since my arrival, I've eaten from taco stands in neighborhoods where no one spoke English, tortillas were pressed by hand, and delicious salsas were made from ingredients that I couldn't pronounce. I searched cook books and attempted to duplicate this wonderful cuisine, but without much success. So I asked Hispanic friends or co-workers for advice. In my preschool classroom, I asked parents to give Mexican cooking demonstrations. I found the secret to cooking Mexican food when someone's grandma taught me the secret to making chiles rellenos, another where to buy the freshest tomatillos. The secret to any culture's cuisine lies not only in the ingredients, but in in the method. It's what's been passed down from generation to generation. So I continue to ask questions, and once in a while, I manage to cook something fabulous.

Since Mexican food is regional, ingredients and flavors can vary, and some recipes can be time-consuming. Most of us just want to duplicate what we've eaten at our favorite Mexican restaurant without slaving over a hot mole sauce. Here's Mexican Cooking 101—the recipes are basic, and you'll be dipping into the salsa in no time.

Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde Recipe

1 whole chicken fryer, about 4 pounds
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 large cloves garlic, smashed
5 whole allspice
5 peppercorns

Place the washed chicken in a soup pot, and add just enough water to cover the chicken. Add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and simmer for about one hour, until the chicken is no longer pink (check the thigh meat next to the bone). Remove the chicken from the pot and put on a plate to cool. Strain the chicken broth, and store or freeze in plastic containers. Pick the chicken off the bones, discarding the skin and bones. Place the meat in a container and chill until needed (within 3 days), or freeze with a little of the broth.

Salsa Verde Recipe (Green Sauce)

1 1/2 pounds tomatillos* (about 12-14)
1 teaspoon oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (wear rubber gloves)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch of ground coriander
1 cup cilantro leaves (use more if you like cilantro)

Suzanne Horvath
11/30/2012 10:13:58 PM

For mexican rice, I don't put cayenne in. I just lay one or two whole serranos on top of the rice while it's simmering. It infuses the rice with the flavor of the serranos and then you just toss them when the rice is done.

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