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Glossary

Mexican cuisine is a world of its own. Not only are many of the ingredients unique, some of the utensils traditionally used for preparation can only be found in Mexico.

Here is a list of ingredients, utensils and dishes that may help you discovering this new world of flavours:

[ Click on a word to read more ]

A rust-coloured seed that is harvested from the annatto shrub to produce the Achiote spice. Its scent is described as “slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg” and flavour as “slightly sweet and peppery”.

Fresh fruit flavoured water.

In Mexico City alambre dishes can be found on most menus. Alambre in Mexican Spanish means ‘wire’. By extension, in restaurant lingo, it most often is used to infer ‘en brochette’–on a metal skewer. Most often, whatever is ordered is cooked on a skewer and then de-skewered and plated.

However, a skewer is not always used in alambre tacos. Certain ingredients are associated with it, such as diced mild green chile, onions, meat and sometimes bacon. Alambre can be served as a filling for tacos, a topping for huaraches (a thick flat tortilla topped with spread beans, meat, onions, cilantro and cheese), a topping for a grilled nopal cactus or on its own.

The emphasis is on stir-frying the above, relatively finely chopped, ingredients together.

A snack to satisfy a craving.

Throughout Mexico, traditional barbacoa is often made in the same way it was for centuries, before the arrival of the Spanish. In this original pit-cooking process, the meat (goat, mutton, pork, sheep) is seasoned, wrapped in either maguey or banana leaves, then placed on a grill over a cauldron of water that is set over glowing coals in a pit about three feet deep.

Spices are added to the pot, and will later be served as a soup with the meat (known as “consomé“).

The pit is then covered and sealed with damp earth. The result is that the meat cooks in a unique process combining smoke and steam.

At home, you may use a pressure cooker.

Snack, appetizer.

Is roast goat kid. Monterrey, Mexico, is generally viewed as home of cabrito. There are actually several traditional ways to make roast cabrito; one of the most common ways to make this dish is to roast a whole kid on a spit over a slow-burning charcoal fire, turning it frequently and basting well to enhance the flavor. Cabrito can also be prepared in a pit roast.

Soups of beef, chicken or a combination, often loaded with a variety of vegetables and sometimes rice or chickpeas.

Is a type of braised or roasted slow-cooked pork.

A Mexican confection of thickened syrup usually made of sweetened caramelized goat’s milk.

Raw fish cut in small pieces and marinated in lime juice. The citric acid in the juice causes the proteins in the seafood to become denatured, which pickles or “cooks” the fish without heat.

After a few hours, the fish is mixed with pico de gallo salsa and salt.

Totopos covered in red, green or any other salsa. The mixture is simmered until the tortilla starts softening. Eggs (scrambled or fried) and shredded chicken are sometimes added to the mix. The dish is topped with cheese, cream and some rings of fresh onion and it’s usually served with refried beans.

Literally means “stuffed pepper”. It consists of a fresh pepper, stuffed with cheese (Oaxaca cheese traditionally), and/or picadillo meat. Then, it’s covered in an egg batter and fried. It is often served in a tomato sauce.

A traditional Mexican pork dish from Yucatán. Preparation of traditional cochinita or puerco pibil involves marinating the meat in orange juice coloring it with achiote (annatto seed), and roasting the meat while it is wrapped in banana leaf.

This artefact dates back to the pre-Columbian era. A comal is a flat, rounded big plate originally made of pottery. Comales were used to cook tortillas and toast coffee and cacao beans. The word comal comes from the Nahuatl word comalli.

Is a folded corn tortilla (not rolled) with a filling and covered with a chile sauce. Enchiladas can be filled with a variety of ingredients, including meat, chicken, vegetables, cheese or combinations.

A perennial plant that is used as a condiment. This pungent annual herb has no substitute, because of its unique flavor, especially if you’re cooking black beans.

These are a type of taco, made by wrapping a tortilla around a filling (savory) and deep frying it. The flautas are served hot out of the fryer, topped with an assortment of ingredients: crumbly cheese, salsa, lettuce, chopped onions.

Typically, multiple flautas are served on a single dish.

Cooked and mashed beans.

Known as Cacahuazintle in Mexico, is a variety of maize originated in Mexico. This type of maize is traditionally used to prepare pozole and also is the base of the tortilla dough, known as nixtamal.

Traditionally a breakfast dish, it consists of lightly fried corn tortillas, with fried eggs on top, covered with a spicy sauce (green, red or both!). Refried beans with crumbly cheese are usually on the side in this plate.

A smoothie made from milk, fruit, and usually ice.

A ground stone mortar tool used for processing grains and seeds. Typically used by women who would grind calcified maize and other organic materials during food preparation.

While varying in specific morphology, metates adhere to a common shape. They typically consist of large stones with a smooth depression or bowl worn into the upper surface. The bowl is formed by the continual and long-term grinding of materials using a smooth hand-held stone (known as a mano).

It’s a stone tool, the traditional Mexican version of the mortar and pestle. Molcajetes are used to crush and grind spices and prepare salsas and guacamole.

Traditionally carved out of a single block of vesicular basalt, molcajetes are typically round in shape and supported by three short legs. They are frequently decorated with the carved head of an animal on the outside edge of the bowl, giving the molcajete the appearance of a short, stout, three-legged animal.

From the nahuatl mulli or molli, meaning “sauce” or “concoction”, mole is a type of thick sauce containing chiles and spices.

There are different types of mole: Mole Poblano, mole Rojo, mole Verde, mole Negro, mole Amarillo, mole Coloradito, among others.

From the Nahuatl word nōpalli for the pads; or nostle, from the Nahuatl word nōchtli for the fruit, the nopal (prickly pear cactus) belongs to the cactus family.

Its fruit, the prickly pear (tuna) and its leaves (pencas) are a common ingredient in the Mexican diet.

Nopales are generally sold fresh, bottled, or canned, less often dried.

Also known as menudo or mondongo, it’s a traditional spicy caldo cooked with tripe. It’s served hot, with a bith of dried oregano and finely chopped onions.

Also known as menudo or mondongo, it’s a traditional spicy caldo cooked with tripe. It’s served hot, with a bith of dried oregano and finely chopped onions

A type of salsa made of finely chopped raw ingredients: tomatoes, onion, coriander and fresh chile verde.

Piloncillo is an unrefined sugar from Mexico. The name piloncillo refers to the traditional cone shape in which the sugar is produced.  There are actually two varieties of piloncillo produced; one is lighter (blanco) and one darker (oscuro). The cone size can vary from as small as 3/4 ounce to as much as 9 ounces per cone. The cones shown in the picture above are about 3″ tall.

Is a traditional pre-Columbian soup or stew made from hominy, with pork, or chicken or no meat and other seasonings and garnish, such as sliced cabbage, dried oregano, sliced fresh radishes , chopped onion, lime juice, dried chile de árbol, etc.

There are a number of variations on pozole, including blanco (white or clear), verde (green), rojo (red), de frijol (with beans), and elopozole (sweet corn, squash, and chicken or pork meat).

Pulque, or octli, is a fermented beverage made from the juice of the agave or maguey plant. It’s milky, slightly foamy and viscous.

Most nectar used in pulque making comes from the Agave salmiana plant, which has been used as a source of nectar since the time of the Aztecs.

Pulque mixed with fruit juices like mango and pineapple is often found for sale as curado. In Mexico, the beverage can be found for sale at pulqueiras, bars devoted to the sale of pulque; traditionally, these establishments were restricted to men.

Stripes of roasted chiles mixed with sliced onion and topped with crema and crumbly cheese.

A traditional chaser for tequila made of tomato juice, spices and condiments.

Sope is a small circle of fried masa with pinched sides. This is then topped with refried beans and crumbled cheese, chopped onion, red or green salsa and cream.

Is a thin cut of beef from the brisket (breast of the cow). Typically, suadero is grilled and used as a taco filling.

A folded or rolled soft corn tortilla filled with anything savory. A taco is generally eaten out of hand, without the aid of utensils, and is often accompanied by a garnish such as salsa and vegetables such as coriander and onion.

Some of the most popular tacos are: de canasta, al pastor, flautas or de guisado.

Corn dough spread on corn husks or banana leaves, filled either with a savory or sweet filling, then wrapped and steamed.

Is a liquor distilled from the fermented juices obtained from the hearts of blue agave plants grown in the Tequila region. The liquor gets its name from the town of Tequila located in the state of Jalisco where production started more than 200 years ago.

The blue agave (agave azul tequilana weber) has long bluish green spiny leaves with sharp points and a large heart (called piña or pineapple) from which the juices are extracted and then distilled twice. One liter of distilled tequila requires between 6 and 8 kilos of agave pulp. Tequila is not distilled from pulque nor is it produced from any cactus.

Tequila can only be produced in Mexico, in the Tequila region, and must comply with strict Mexican government regulations. In order to satisfy an ever-growing demand and a multitude of consumer’s preferences and tastes, tequila is produced in two general categories and four different types in three of those categories. The two categories are defined by the percentage of juices coming from the blue agave:

Tequila 100% Agave. Must be made with 100% blue agave juices and must be bottled at the distillery in Mexico. It may be Blanco, Reposado, or Añejo.

Tequila. Must be made with at least 51% blue agave juices. This tequila may be exported in bulk to be bottled in other countries following the NOM standard. It may be Blanco, Gold, Reposado, or Añejo

The NOM standard defines four types of tequila:

Blanco or Silver: This is the traditional tequila that started it all. Clear and transparent, fresh from the still tequila is called Blanco (white or silver) and must be bottled immediately after the distillation process. It has the true bouquet and flavor of the blue agave. It is usually strong and is traditionally enjoyed in a “caballito” (2 oz small glass).

Oro or Gold: Is tequila Blanco mellowed by the addition of colorants and flavorings, caramel being the most common. It is the tequila of choice for frozen Margaritas.

Reposado or Rested: It is Blanco that has been kept (or rested) in white oak casks or vats called “pipones” for more than two months and up to one year. The oak barrels give Reposado a mellowed taste, pleasing bouquet, and its pale color. Reposado keeps the blue agave taste and is gentler to the palate. These tequilas have experienced exponential demand and high prices.

Añejo or Aged: It is Blanco tequila aged in white oak casks for more than a year. Maximum capacity of the casks should not exceed 600 liters (159 gallons). The amber color and woody flavor are picked up from the oak, and the oxidation that takes place through the porous wood develops the unique bouquet and taste.

Reserva: Although not a category in itself, it is a special Añejo that certain distillers keep in oak casks for up to 8 years. Reserva enters the big leagues of liquor both in taste and in price.

A dish of shredded chicken or beef cooked in a spicy tomato, onion sauce.

A torta is a Mexican sandwich, served on an oblong 6-8 inch firm, crusty white, bread roll, called bolillo, telera o virote. Tortas can be served hot or cold. Among the most popular, we can find: Ham, milanesa, ahogada, cubana.

A crispy, dried or deep fried corn tortilla disc. The tostada was created when tortillas went stale but were still fresh enough to eat. Not wanting to waste old tortillas this were put under the sun in order to dry them. Once this happened, the tostadas were topped with almost any savory ingredient, raw or cooked, one can think of: beans, guisados, cheese and/or vegetables.

A thin, round disc, about the size of a hand palm, made of cooked corn dough.

Crispy tortilla triangles. Originally totopos were the leftover tortillas. In order not to waste them, people used to cut them by hand in small pieces and put them under the sun to dry out.

You still find those kind of totopos in some parts of the country.

More recently, the pieces of tortilla are deep fried.

Folded corn tortilla normally filled with melted cheese, Nowadays the quesadillas have, just like tacos, almost any imaginable savory filling.

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