So you've served up some great nachos or fajitas and have given yourself a pat on the back for whipping up a truly Mexican feast. But hold on a minute. Those dishes aren't actually Mexican. Fajitas came out of Texas in the 1930s while nachos were first served to American military wives during World War II. But, it's easy to become confused about what's actually authentically Mexican and what's not, especially with all the great choices that are around these days!
But there is a way to make your meals more authentic, and there's a good reason to give it a try. Mexican food without a doubt brings some big, bold flavors to the table and can quickly bring flare to any weeknight dinner. And as an added bonus, unlike French food or even in some cases, Italian food, Mexican food is pretty easy to make. You just need to follow these tips.
1. Make your own tortillas
Tortillas are an essential part of any Mexican feast. Even if you're not using them to roll enchiladas or filling them with carne asada, they're often served as a side and are great for mopping up all those delicious Mexican sauces. But the trick to get that truly authentic taste is to use corn tortillas and make your own.
Corn tortillas are very easy to make. You just combine 2 cups of masa harina with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and add 1.5 cups of water. Mix it together to form a dough and then pinch off small balls from the big piece you'll end up with. Place each one of these small balls into a tortilla press that will essentially flatten it out into a tortilla so you don't have to spend all that time and energy rolling each small ball. Then, use them as the recipe calls for or just throw them onto a hot grill or skillet for a few minutes to cook them through. We guarantee you they'll taste so much better than anything you'll find in a store!
2. Use lots of fresh cilantro
Sometimes you can find dried cilantro in the spice aisle of the grocery store, but do yourself a big favor and forget about this and opt for fresh instead. Fresh is not only easier to find, it also tastes much better and so much, well, fresher. In Mexico cilantro is thrown into just about everything (it's even sometimes called Mexican parsley it's so common!) and then it's also used as a garnish so don't skimp on it.
3. Use lots of fresh lime juice
If there's one ingredient that might be used more than cilantro in Mexican food, it's lime juice. This is squeezed over tortilla chips, grilled meats, salads, soups, and even drinks because the acidity of it brings balance to any dish and can make all the other flavors truly sing. And just like when you're using cilantro, always use fresh when using lime juice. The dish will taste so much better and those you're feeding will thank you.
4. Use homemade salsa, pico de gallo, and sauces
Mexican cooking is a lot about the sauces, probably because they're so delicious! But ditch all those jars in your fridge and don't even think about picking them up at the grocery store. Instead, make your own salsa verde - a green salsa that's used extensively in Mexico - and try swapping your red salsa for some fresh and delicious pico de gallo. Pico de gallo is a lot like salsa in that it uses tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, lime juice, and cilantro, but it tastes so much better. And it's also considerably chunkier than salsa, so you get more flavor per bite.
When you really want to up your Mexican food game, try your hand at a mole (pronounced mole-ay), a signature Mexican sauce that combines hot chili peppers with chocolate.
5. Know what cheese to use, and when
Ditch the queso sauce that so many restaurants are now serving, because it too, is not really Mexican. It was likely created when people caught on to the queso fresco cheese that is used extensively in Mexico. This cheese, unlike the sauce that took its name, is a softer cheese that looks a lot like feta cheese. But even when you use the real thing, be careful how you do it. Mexican food is all about letting the actual flavors of the ingredients stand out and be fully appreciated, and any kind of cheese can quickly mask those flavors. So while it's okay to add queso fresco to your enchiladas or chilaquilas, use a light hand and only add enough to complement the flavors, not cover them up.
6. Never use canned beans
Canned beans are often too soft and mushy and have a metallic taste that no amount of rinsing will get rid of. And nobody in Mexico would ever consider using them even though beans are another staple of Mexican food. To make the most out of your Mexican dishes, always use dried beans and soak and boil them before using them in your recipe. Again, using the real thing is always better than using processed and that even holds true for beans.