The Chipotle chile is the Jalapeño chile, that has been ripened, dried and smoked. Its name comes from the náhuatl Chilli or Chile, and Poctli or smoke.
The process of drying and smoking Jalapeños has existed for centuries, even before the Spaniards arrived. It was considered a way to preserve chiles for long periods of time and also bring out their interesting qualities.
There are different kinds of Chipotle chiles, all of which are spicy, smoky and rich.
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Chipotles in adobo sauce are one of my favorite Mexican ingredients. They are ready to be spooned on top or inside of almost anything: quesadillas, tacos, sandwiches, grilled meats… Yet, they are also a wonderful cooking ingredient to use for making a wide range of dishes, from soups to moles, from salsas to stews and even mashed potatoes. Chipotles have truly unique layers of flavor that come together in a most wonderful way: smoky, sweet, deep, rich and pleasantly spicy.
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I grew up eating chorizo in Mexico, and I love it. It comes in deep-burnt-reddish links of fresh, moist, exotically seasoned ground meat, that once, fried, becomes crisp and filling bites with bold flavors and a thousand uses.
When I moved to the United States, more than a dozen years ago, I was thrilled to find chorizo in international grocery stores. Lately, I have been intrigued and surprised to see that my Mexican chorizo is now accompanied by many other kinds in the refrigerated sections of bigger, more mainstream stores.
Latin chorizos differ greatly from Spanish ones. Spanish chorizos typically are dried and smoked cured links of chopped meat, seasoned mainly with garlic and paprika; they tend to be ready to eat and have a salami-like soft and chewy bite. Latin ones however, are raw and need to be cooked before eating.
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Cilantro is also known by many names like culantro, coriander and even Chinese parsley. Although it didn’t originate in Mexico, it has grown such strong roots in its cuisine, to the point that its hard to think about Mexican cooking without it.
It has delicate, paper thin leaves and tender stems. Its deep green color tends to be shinny too.
It is used for countless foods including being a key ingredients of many salsas, guacamoles and pico de gallo. It is used to flavor beans, rice, salads, stews amongst some dishes. It is even placed frequently on the table in a bowl, just as an optional garnish for tacos, antojos and soups. In the last couple decades it has even become quite popular for smoothies and juices.
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The cinnamon mostly used in Mexican cuisine is called Ceylon and it is also known as true cinnamon. It is quite different from Cassia, which is mostly found in US stores. However, as time moves on, one can find true cinnamon in an increasing number of stores here.
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Corn has been a central part of the Mexican diet and culture since ancient times. Not only is it eaten fresh in its many varieties, its dried kernels are used for an infinity of things, including masa to make everything from tortillas to tamales. It’s husks are also treasured as an ingredient to wrap and cook food in. Tamales, of course, have remained the wrapped and cooked food par excellence in Mexico. Methods have varied from steaming, to cooking over comales or the open fire, to cooking in underground pits.
Now, the use of fresh or dried leaves for wrapping and cooking foods is not exclusive to Mexico. Grape leaves were used since ancient Greece and banana leaves in the Philippines, to name some. In Mexico, there has been a large variety of ingredients for this use like banana leaves, avocado leaves, chaya, hoja santa leaves, large spinach leaves and even some exotic flower leaves. Still corn husks, fresh or dried, have been and remain a crucial one.
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Dried shrimp are used not only for the Caldo de Camarón, or Shrimp Soup or Broth. They are also used to make shrimp patties that are then bathed in different mole sauces. Also to prepare tamales, rice, bean and potato dishes. Even some salsas that used them ground as a seasoning and thickening base.
Dried shrimp come in different sizes, from the miniature ones smaller than 1/2″ to much larger ones bigger than 3″. Because they are lightly cooked, then salted and left to dry in the sun, they concentrate their flavor intensely and deeply. They are also quite salty.
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The epazote herb is one deeply Mexican ingredient that has no substitute that I know off. It has a very unique, clear and deep flavor that adds a lot of character to a dish. Hard to describe, it has that I don’t know what, that somehow makes a distinct difference.
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The Guajillo chile is one of the most commonly used Mexican dried chiles, and it is now widely available in the United States. It is long and pointy, with a beautiful maroon color. Its skin is quite smooth and shinny on the outside, but it is hard and tougher and less pliable than others, like the Ancho.
It has a pleasant and deep flavor, with mild heat. It tends to be a crowd pleaser.
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Habanero chiles are one happy looking bunch. They have colorful colors that go from green to the yellow, and then orange to red as they mature. They are small, cute, shinny and have waxy skin. But as much as their looks are inviting, they are the spiciest chiles in Mexican cuisine. They are incredibly fierce. With a rating of 300,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville scale for measuring hotness of a chili pepper, you can get an idea of how hot they are: Jalapeños go around 10,000 to 15,000.
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