Growing up in the Midwest, Mexican food meant neon nachos, cheese-packed enchiladas, and crunchy tacos. It wasn't until at least college that my horizons were broadened beyond the world of Tex-Mex. Since then I've worked hard to play catch-up, eating more than my fair share of traditional Mexican food. It's impossible to condense all of the country's food into one list, but these 20 Mexican recipes are a good start. Keep reading for Mexican favorites like fragrant pozole verde, Mexican-style shrimp cocktail, and tender cochinita pibil.
Quick and Easy Huevos Rancheros With Tomato-Chili Salsa
Huevos rancheros is a simple breakfast made of tortillas, fried eggs, and salsa. You could reach for a jar and make it in just minutes, but even if you make your own salsa you can put the dish together in less than half an hour. The smoky and wickedly spicy salsa gets its flavor from dried chilies and canned crushed tomatoes. If you want to go all out, serve with homemade refried beans.
Chilaquiles Verdes With Fried Eggs
"Chilaquiles" sounds a lot more appetizing than "soggy breakfast nachos," but that's basically what this dish is. All you have to do to make it is fold together chips and salsa verde in a pan; top with Mexican crema, crumbled cheese, sliced onions, and chopped cilantro; and finish with a fried egg.
Easy Pressure Cooker Pork Chile Verde
This chile verde tastes like it took hours to make, but with a pressure cooker it only needs 15 minutes of active time and a little bit of sitting around. Pretty much all you have to do is dump cubed pork shoulder and roughly chopped vegetables into the pot and let the pressure do all of the work—you don't even need stock because the veggies release plenty of liquid. This recipe works well with chicken, too.
Pozole Verde de Pollo (Green Mexican Hominy and Chicken Soup)
Traditional pozole verde takes days to make, but thanks to a few shortcuts, ours can be prepared on a weeknight. We cook everything in batches and sear the soup after blending, which gives it a remarkably complex flavor in no time at all. Canned hominy is key to cutting down on the time it takes to make this pozole verde, and while purists may scoff, we like its toothsome bite.
Sopa de Lima (Yucatán-Style Lime Soup)
If you want to make truly traditional sopa de lima you have to use Yucatán lima ágria, a sour lime that is basically impossible to find in the States. Our recipe mimics the fruit's acidity and bitterness by using a mixture of lime and grapefruit juices. Turkey is the most authentic protein here, but since we're already making a few changes, feel free to use chicken.
Mexican Shrimp Cocktail (Coctel de Camarones)
I love Mexican shrimp cocktail—poached shrimp in a sauce made with ketchup, onion, cilantro, and citrus juice—but I find some versions to be a little too sweet. Ours has a more balanced flavor because we replace some of the ketchup with tomato purée. Dry-brining the shrimp, starting them in cold water, and not heating them past 170°F makes them super plump and juicy.
Classic Shrimp Aguachile With Lime, Cucumber, and Red Onion
Aguachile is a Sinaloan dish made with raw shrimp, lime juice, chilies, cucumber, and onion. That ingredient list might make it sound like ceviche, but the difference is that aguachile is served immediately—before the acid has a chance to "cook" the fish. Once you've tried this classic recipe try our aguachile variations made with scallops and arctic char.
Real Tacos Al Pastor
Real deal al pastor is made on a huge vertical rotisserie, and if you have one at home I want to be your best friend. If you don't have a trompo in your backyard you're not out of luck—you can nail the flavor of al pastor by slow-roasting the pork in a loaf pan, slicing it, and crisping it up in a skillet. The pork releases a ton of fat as it cooks, some of which we brush onto roast pineapple.
Easy One-Pot Chicken Tinga (Spicy Mexican Shredded Chicken)
Traditional chicken tinga is made with fresh Mexican chorizo, which can be a little tough to find in the States. This easy version gets most of the same flavors by using browned tomatoes, tomatillos, and garlic; chipotles in adobo; and dried Mexican oregano. The saucy chicken is just begging to be served with homemade corn tortillas.
Easy Fresh Mexican Chorizo
Remember how I said fresh Mexican chorizo is hard to find? That just means that if you want it, you'll need to take matters into your own hands. To make chorizo at home, grind up pork shoulder with spices like Mexican oregano, cumin, and cloves. The toughest spice to find is the ground achiote—it's just there for color, so feel free to leave it out.
Sous Vide Carnitas for Tacos (Crispy Mexican-Style Pulled Pork)
Making carnitas the old-fashioned way isn't hard, but it does require a bucket of lard. We have an oven-based method that cuts down on the waste, but using a sous vide circulator makes it even easier. All you need to do is cook the pork in vacuum bags with some seasonings, shred, and crisp in a pan or under the broiler.
Cochinita Pibil (Yucatán-Style Barbecued Pork)
Order cochinita pibil in a Mexican-American restaurant and you'll likely be confronted with bland, dry roast pork. The real deal, though, is super tender and has a uniquely sweet, earthy aroma imparted by bitter Seville oranges, achiote, and charred garlic. Like lima ágria, Seville oranges are pretty hard to find in the States—lime, navel orange, and grapefruit juices work as a substitute.
The Best Carne Asada
There are a million ways to make carne asada. This recipe admittedly teeters on the edge of Tex-Mex, but we couldn't leave out this meaty favorite. Our secret is adding a little soy sauce and fish sauce to the marinade to give the skirt steak an umami boost (don't worry, the steak doesn't taste like fish).
Yucatecan Pork Belly and Cheese Tacos (Tacos de Castacán Con Queso)
Most traditional Mexican tacos don't have any cheese, but every rule has exceptions. At Wayan'e, a bustling taco stand in the Yucatecan city of Mérida, cooks sprinkle cheese onto meat while it's still on the flattop so that it melts and crisps. You could do it with any meat, but here we use a Yucatecan pork belly preparation called castacán.
Tacos Árabes (Pita-Wrapped, Cumin-Marinated-Pork Tacos)
Pita bread in Mexico? This isn't some forced attempt at fusion—Arab immigrants brought lamb shawarma with them from the Middle East and tacos árabes were born. Lamb gave way to pork, but traditional Arab flavors like cumin, oregano, and onions remained. Depending on who you ask, tacos árabes were the precursor to the beloved tacos al pastor.
Tacos de Canasta (Basket Tacos for a Party or Potluck)
Most tacos are à la minute food—you eat them immediately after assembly. Tacos de canasta, on the other hand, are layered in a basket to steam before serving. High-moisture fillings will make the tortillas too soggy, so stick to drier choices like refried beans, potatoes, or braised meats that have been drained of their excess liquid.
Tamales With Red Chili and Chicken Filling
The best tamale dough is made by whipping lard, salt, and baking powder and mixing in chicken stock and fresh masa. It's easy to find fresh masa in my neighborhood, but a lot of you might not be able to get it—don't worry, widely available masa harina works fine. Here we fill the dough with chicken thighs and red chili sauce, but you should also try them with Poblano peppers and Oaxacan cheese or green chili and pork.
Chiles Rellenos (Mexican-Style Cheese-Stuffed Chilies)
Order chiles rellenos at a Tex-Mex restaurant and you'll likely find a canned pepper stuffed with cheese, smothered in sauce, and blanketed with even more cheese. This more traditional version of the dish is made with roasted fresh poblanos, which we stuff with homemade chorizo and cheese, fry, and serve with homemade salsa that we sear for extra flavor.
Pueblan-Style Cemita Sandwiches
Unlike a Roosevelt Avenue-style cemita, which is stuffed with all the fixings you'll find at a Mexican-American taco cart, a Pueblan-style cemita is a more restrained affair, featuring fried cutlets, avocado, onion, queso Oaxaca, and canned hot peppers. For the true Pueblo experience you need to seek out papalo, a Mexican herb with a floral, cilantro-like flavor.
Cajeta Casera (Homemade Goat's Milk "Caramel")
Don't worry, we're not going to leave you without dessert. Cajeta is a caramel-like sauce made with goat's milk—essentially a more complex version of dulce de leche. You can serve it drizzled over vanilla ice cream, spread onto apple slices, or—if you're anything like me—licked off a spoon.
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