Common ingredients in Mexican cuisine: A glossary | Dish | Indy Week

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Common ingredients in Mexican cuisine: A glossary

Ancho, chayote, guajillo, jicama, tomatillo and more


See also: The Triangle's Latino supermarkets | Balcazar Bakery in Raleigh | The Indy's restaurant guide

Adobo/adobado: "Typical Mexican adobos are stewlike presentations of meat in savory red chile sauce. Don't confuse the noun adobo, referring to the whole dish, with the adjective adobado, which is used for something marinated in a punchier version of this sauce," says chef Rick Bayless. Some don't make the distinction. "Adobo sauce" is a red sauce or paste that has come to refer to a sauce made with chipotle chiles.
Aguas frescas: Cold drinks made with fresh fruit mixed with water. More water-based than juice, but always starts with fresh ingredients, not powder.
Ancho: The dried form of the poblano chile, it has a deep brown color and is the sweetest of the dried chiles.
Carne al pastor: A meat filling used for tacos. It's always pork, always seasoned with red chile (usually chipotle) and spices. It's often served with pineapple.
Chayote: A small, gourdlike fruit that looks like a pear and is similar in taste and texture to squash. Also used in Louisiana cooking, where it is called mirliton. Can be prepared in any way suitable for summer squash, or stuffed like bell peppers. Sometimes called a vegetable pear.
Chicharron: Crisp snack made from pork skin fried twice.

Chile: Also called chili pepper or hot pepper. There are more than 200 varieties of chiles, more than 100 of which are indigenous to Mexico. As a general rule, the larger a chile is, the milder it is. The substance that gives a chile its heat is called capsaicin, which is mostly stored in the chile's veins and seeds.
Chipotle: The dried, smoked form of the jalapeno chile. It has a wrinkled, dark brown skin and a smoky, sweet, almost chocolatey flavor.
Guajillo: A dried chile with shiny, smooth red skin that is very tough, so it must be soaked longer than other chiles. Can be quite hot. "What anchos are to 'deep' and 'rich,' guajillos are to 'spicy' and 'dynamic,'" says Bayless.
Habanero: A very hot chile that is small and lantern-shaped.
Jalapeño: Named after Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz, Mexico, these smooth, dark green (scarlet red when ripe) chiles range from hot to very hot. In dried form, they are known as chipotle chiles.
Jicama: Often referred to as the "Mexican potato," this large, bulbous root vegetable has thin brown skin and white, crunchy flesh. Its sweet, nutty flavor is good both raw and cooked.
Mole: A rich, dark, reddish-brown sauce. There are many variations of this spicy Mexican specialty, usually depending on what's in the cook's kitchen. Generally, mole is a smooth, cooked blend of onion, garlic, several varieties of chiles, and even Mexican chocolate.
Pasilla: The dried form of the chilaca chile. This rich-flavored, medium-hot chile is blackish-brown in color, which is why it's sometimes called chile negro.
Poblano: A dark (sometimes almost black) green chile with a rich flavor that varies from mild to snappy. Best known as the chile of choice for chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers). In its dried form, known as an ancho chile.
Pico de gallo: Translates literally as "rooster's beak," a relish made of finely chopped ingredients, such as jicama, onions, chiles and cucumbers, as well as seasonings. So named because it was once purportedly eaten with the thumb and finger, an action that resembles a rooster's pecking beak.
Queso fresco: A white, slightly salty, fresh Mexican cheese with a texture similar to farmers' cheese. Also called queso blanco.
Serrano: A small, slightly pointed chile that has a very hot, savory flavor. More predictably hot than a jalapeno. Also referred to as chile verde (green chile).
Tomatillo: Walnut-size, pale green globes covered with a papery, lantern-shaped husk. Called tomato verde in most of Mexico, they are not green tomatoes but rather a cousin to the tomato (a fellow member of the nightshade family).

Sources: The Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst; Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen by Rick Bayless; Margaret Lundy

All photos by Rex Miller.

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