• Welcome to Cuisine Corner: Mexican (SBS Food)Source: SBS Food
Fresh, flavourful and rainbow-hued, Mexican cuisine is far tastier and healthier than what Tex-Mex imposters lead us to believe. Here's the 101 on key ingredients, authentic eats, and handy hints for mastering Mexican.
Siobhan Hegarty

17 Jul 2018 - 12:21 PM  UPDATED 19 Mar 2021 - 5:40 PM

Corn and beans mightn’t sound particularly high-brow, but these two ingredients form the bedrock of Mexican cooking. The former is added to soups and stews, charred to perfection, and even used in sweet cakes, like this pastel de elote. Corn is also ground to make masa – a dough turned into tortillas, tamales and tostadas (corn chips). Beans or frijoles, on the other hand, are the protein component in many recipes. Pinto and black turtle beans are the most common varieties.

Fundamentals aside, flavours and cooking techniques vary across the country’s six regions. Achiote, for instance, is the dominant seasoning in Yucatan, a province known for sweeter, less spicy fare. Central Mexico excels in meaty morsels like carnitas (braised meat) and pozole (a pre-Hispanic stew), while the Oaxan region specialises in móle (a chocolate and chilli sauce).

You’ll find the culinary legacy of Mayan and Spanish cultures visible in recipes too, with native ingredients like lime, coriander (cilantro), avocado and nopales (edible cactus) given a Hispanic twist.


Pantry essentials

First up, chillies are a go. Buy them fresh, dried, smoked and pickled for use in sweet and savoury dishes. The most popular picks are ancho (mild and sweet), guajillo (soak first); habanero (hot stuff) and jalepeno (chipotle when dried). Keep plenty of beans and corn, plus masa dough in the freezer. And stock your fruit bowl with tomatoes, avocados and limes.


Fast five

1. Sweet stuff: Dark, bitter and flavoured with spices, Mexican chocolate is used in móle sauces, baking and, of course, hot chocolate.

2. Rock star: Similar to a mortar and pestle, metate (a lava rock grinding stone) is used to make salsas.

3. Dip in: Keep your guacamole a vibrant hue by sitting the avocado pip in it until serving.

4. Prep work: Before cooking with dried chillies, remove the stem and seeds, and place into warm oil until the colour changes. Next, simmer in hot water for 10 mins.

5. Green thumb: Not to be confused with green tomatoes, tomatillos come from the gooseberry family and possess a tart taste. Add to salsas and stews. 


View our Mexican recipe collection here.

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs' Line airs weeknights at 6pm starting August 6. Check out the program page for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more! 

Get cooking: Mexican
Chicken tostadas with slaw

Take taco Tuesday to the next level with these more-ish chicken tostadas, topped with a crunchy coleslaw.

Tamarind and chilli iceblocks (paletas de tamarindo y chile)

These iceblocks are a sweet, sour and spicy Mexican sweet made using just three ingredients. You will need 6 iceblock moulds and sticks.

Achiote-roasted pork (cochinita pibil)

This strikingly colourful dish derives its red hue from the pigment of achiote seeds, also known as annatto. This earthy, complex flavour is used by the people of the Yucatán to create one of their most famous dishes, cochinita pibil, meaning ‘little pig’. Traditionally, cochinita pibil is cooked in the ground, but here I’ve used banana leaves to steam the pork, which imparts a delicate and unique flavour.

Fish tacos with flour tortillas (tacos de pescado)

Quick and easy to prepare, these tacos are a classic example of modern Mexican food. Originally, a tempura-style batter was introduced to Baja Peninsula by Japanese immigrants, but this soon morphed into a beer batter.

Mayan chocolate tart

Delicious spiced chocolate flavour that finishes with a mild chilli hit. Why did we call it Mayan chocolate tart? Well! The first record of chocolate being consumed was when the Ancient Mayans ground cocoa beans and blended them with spices, chilli and water to make a bitter drink. We have taken the idea of blending chocolate with spices and chilli to create this decadent dessert.