Found a Good Website for Mexican Food Specialty Items & Need Advice in Making Up a Shopping List
By way of a very interesting article in the NY Times last week about Mexican home cooking I found a nice website that offers a lot of the products that are necessary for preparing the sauces and moles mentioned in that article. The website is: MEXGROCER.COM. It's a fun site to explore and the prices seem fair (offering a wide selection of merchandise featuring the Virgin of Guadaloupe, including a large purse, which I'm thinking about purchasing).
But, what I'm really after are ingredients that will make my Mexican cooking, especially moles and sauces, easier and more authentic. It's just that I wish I knew more about what it was I really needed to buy, and what are the best brands versus the not so good brands. I think that NYT article mentioned Dona Maria was a really good brand. I'm very interested in learning to make simplified moles and sauces, such as mole poblano and adobo sauce (not strictly Mex. but in the ballpark). I have Diana Kennedy's "Art of Mexican Cooking."
So, if any chowhounds with experience in navigating the necessary ingredients/brands for taking an Anglo one step beyond in the Mexican cooking universe could check out the MEXGROCER.COM site and organize a shopping list for me, I'd be very grateful.
If you know of other good websites featuring similar products I'd be grateful if you could share them with me. I do know about TIENDA.COM another wonderful source for Latino ingredients.
The most important ingredient that elevated my attempts at cooking Mexican food to another level was dried chiles. Of course, it depends upon the recipe, but dried guajillo, ancho and chiles de arbol are a good start.
I also LOVE Herdez's salsa casera. It's the best prepared salsa I've ever had, whether canned or "fresh" (i.e. the kind that comes in a plastic container at the supermarket, etc.), other than those served in a restaurant or homemade.
Another item to get, if you don't already have them available locally, are chipotles in adobo. I don't have a preferred brand, but they definitely provide a taste of authenticity.
The key to good Mexican cooking, I've found, is the fresh ingredients: garlic, onion, tomato, peppers, cilantro, and, above all, lard as the fat base for beans, etc.
I know Dommy! (who posts on the Los Angeles board) has recommended Dona Maria moles before. Here's a link to her thread on mole enchiladas:
Edited to add: I don't know if they sell cheese on mexgrocer, but another thing that helps with that "authentic" taste in Mexican cooking is the right dairy ingredients: queso anejo, cotija, requeson and panela are a good start, as is Mexican "crema" (similar to sour cream or creme fraiche). Another good thing to get would be Mexican chocolate tablets, used to make hot chocolate. Oh, and if you really want to go all-out, buy a bag of dried hibiscus flowers, and make jamaica (a really pretty--it comes out a deep magenta color--and tasty agua fresca (a cold tea-like beverage)).
I use Dona Maria. I have made my own moles and it is one of those things you do once or twice and then go to Dona Maria unless it is something like Manchmateles. Otherwise it is a thankless task and Dona Maria is very good and handy to have in the pantry
re: Alexandra Eisler
I second that Ranco Gordo will really have specialty items for Mexican cooking as will Tierra Vegetables.
Unless you really need the option of online shopping, most of what MexGrocer sells can be found at the local Mexican markets and not even that. The Mexican aisle in most local supermarkets like Safeway and Albertsons will have a good many of these items.
If you can, get down to the Farmers Market at Ferry Plaza and talk to Rancho Gordo directly. He will help you with the items to buy ... not just his own ... and the best markets in the area to shop at. As for Mi Tierra they have the fresest dried peppers and fresh peppers. In terms of fresh peppers, I'd check out the local mex-markts for fresh peppers not to duplicate what Tierra sells since the mex-markets are less expensive.
As to moles, lots of Mexican markets have thier own mole sauces on top of the meat counters. Many have tastes so you can get a feel for the flavor. English usually isn't that great at Mexican markets but some places it is very good and you might get some advice on products.
However, if your situation doesn't allow getting over to the markets then mexgrocer seems fine in terms of price. There's just that shipping cost to deal with. I'd stay away from the Mexican candy though. Too much of it has lead in it.
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Zarela Martinez, the author and Zarela owner, always add a list of that sort in her books. In her first one, Food of my heart, by example, she lists a dozen places were you can find everything and order by mail.
And guys, if someone is planning to visit Mexico City, Ill be glad to give you some good tips!