Having spent a career studying the cuisine of Mexico, chef and cookbook author Rick Bayless has gained a tremendous appreciation for the versatility and intensity of traditional Mexican ingredients. Today, he discusses the basic ingredients you need to create most Mexican dishes.
These medium- to dark-green peppers are about 2 1/2 inches long and have a tapered shape and juicy flesh that ranges from medium to hot. They are often used fresh in salsas and guacamole, as well as roasted and mashed in sauces.
These dark-green peppers are larger and slightly milder than jalapenos, and their thick flesh has a rich, complex taste. Look for poblanos that are not too twisted for easy roasting and peeling.
The hottest of all chiles, these small, lantern-shaped peppers range in color from light green to bright orange when ripe. They can be chopped for a fiery salsa or sliced in half and slow-cooked in sauce to release the flavor without all the heat.
Also extremely hot, these chiles are small, irregularly shaped, and can be yellow, orange, or red.
Also known as the dried poblano chile, the ancho is recognized by its lustrous, wrinkly, almost black skin and distinctive rich, spicy aroma.
Smooth-skinned and burgundy-colored, this dried pepper is excellent ground for chile powder.
This dried jalapeno pepper is smoke-dried rather than air-dried, so it has a very distinctive sweet, smoky aroma and flavor.
This old-fashioned, raw sugar is sold in cone shapes and is dark brown due to its high molasses content. It must be melted for use in recipes, and it makes excellent hot fudge.
Fresh corn masa that has been force-dried and then powdered (not the same as fine-ground cornmeal), masa harina is perfect for making tortillas when finely ground or tamales when coarsely ground.
Dark, coarsely ground Mexican chocolate can be whipped with milk or water to make classic hot chocolate or ground with spices for mole poblano. Rick prefers to use Ibarra, a Mexican brand of chocolate, in his recipes, because is made with almonds and cinnamon.
Dried Mexican Oregano
The Mexican oregano that is commonly imported to the United States is from the Verbena family, and its earthy, rustic flavor is distinctly different from the familiar Mediterranean oregano.
This highly pungent herb somewhat resembles a weed, prompting many gardeners to refer to it as pigweed. In Mexican cooking, it is commonly used to flavor black beans, cheese quesadillas, and certain moles or tomatillo sauces.
Canned Chipotle in Adobo Sauce
Rehydrated dried chipotle chiles are available canned with tomato sauce, vinegar, and spices. They can be substituted for dried chipotles in some recipes, though the flavor will be somewhat altered. Canned chipotle chiles can be found in nearly every Mexican grocery store and are one of the most versatile ingredients in a well-stocked Mexican pantry.
These husks of large ears of field corn (not sweet corn) are commonly used as wrappers for tamales. Stored in a dry place, they will keep for up to 1 year.