Mexican Cooking For Dummies Cheat Sheet - dummies
Cheat Sheet

Mexican Cooking For Dummies Cheat Sheet

From Mexican Cooking For Dummies

By Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, Helene Siegel

If you’re new to cooking Mexican food, you’re in luck — this Cheat Sheet offers tips for cooking festive and delicious Mexican dishes and a look at different types of chiles to give just the right flavor to your South-of-the-Border meals. In addition, handy charts help you convert cooking temperatures and measurements.

Great Tips for Mexican Cooking

If you love to cook (and eat) Mexican food, these terrific tips will help you make the most of preparing delicious, festive Mexican dishes and beverages:

  • Garnish freely. That doesn’t mean a sprig or two of wilted parsley strewn across a plate. In the Mexican kitchen, the garnishes — fresh diced onion, sliced radish, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, diced chiles — are integral to the dish. They add the crunch, the freshness, and the bright acidity that completes a dish.

  • Recycle. Yesterday’s salsa and chips are today’s tortilla soup is tomorrow’s chilaquiles. It’s good for the planet, and it tastes good, too!

  • Start good taste at home. Try making our homemade corn and flour tortillas and our salsas rather than purchasing the store-bought variety. Then you’ll recognize the difference between a so-so tortilla and something great.

  • Try unusual cuts of meat. Mexican cooking provides an excellent opportunity to explore inexpensive cuts of meat. Slowly cooked butts, shoulders, and shanks will reward you with silky tenderness and intense flavor at half the cost of prime cuts.

  • Aspire to be an acid queen or king. Acid accents, particularly from lime juice, are necessary in Mexican cooking to balance the richness and spice, especially in posoles, ceviches, and tacos.

  • Roast and toast freely. Roasted tomatoes, onions, and chiles add a unique layer of complexity to salsas and sauces that is characteristic of real Mexican cooking. Don’t skip this step. The same advice applies to toasting pastas or grains.

  • Make homemade beverages. Mexican cuisine offers an array of wonderfully vibrant beverages, alcoholic and not. Get in the spirit and abandon predictable soft drinks and wines for a refreshing change.

  • Embrace chiles. Don’t be intimidated by chiles. With a little know-how, you will find that they are easy to work with and extremely healthy and add a wallop of lowfat flavor that will grow on you if you give them a chance.

  • First say yes. Before you automatically say no to a new food or taste experience, think again and take a bite. Remember that it took Europeans about 400 years to figure out what to do with a tomato. Just think of all that great tomato sauce they were missing.

Types of Chiles for Mexican Cooking

Chiles are a staple in Mexican cooking. Take this list grocery shopping so you can recognize the type of chiles used for Mexican meals and choose the chiles with the flavor and degree of spiciness you like:

  • Serrano: A small, fresh, green hot chile. Used for spice and flavor in cooking and as a garnish.

  • Jalapeño: Larger than a serrano, though still small. This fresh green or red chile is probably the easiest to find in America. The ripe red version is sweeter; the green version can be spicy.

  • Poblano: A dark green, medium-sized fresh green chile often roasted and stuffed.

  • Habanero: A tiny, lantern-shaped fresh chile of extraordinary heat. Interchangeable with the incendiary Scotch Bonnet.

  • Chile de arbol: A small, red dried chile. It’s the chile used for the dried red chile flakes in the spice section of the market.

  • Chipotle: A medium-small, wrinkled, dried brown chile with a unique smoky flavor reminiscent of bacon. It’s the dried, smoked version of jalapeño.

  • Chile negro, or pasilla: A long, narrow, dark brown dried chile used for grinding into moles.

  • Ancho: A medium-sized, wrinkled, brown dried chile with a mellow, earthy, sweet flavor. It’s the dried version of the poblano.

Temperature Conversions for Cooking

The right temperature keeps from overcooking (or undercooking) your favorite Mexican foods. Refer to this chart if you need to convert your cooking temperature to Celsius and/or Fahrenheit:

°Fahrenheit °Celsius
250 120
275 135
300 150
325 160
350 175
375 190
400 205
425 220
450 230
475 245
500 260

Metric Cooking Conversions

If you run into a problem with measurements while cooking your favorite Mexican dish, use this quick guide to find the metric equivalents for common cooking amounts:

This Measurement . . . . . . Equals This Measurement
1 tablespoon 15 milliliters
1 cup 250 milliliters
1 quart 1 liter
1 ounce 28 grams
1 pound 454 grams