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Mexican Cooking

I'm new to cooking. I started with BBQing, moved on to the wok (I'm still new to this) and want to move on to Mexican food. I have limited experience cooking on the stove.

What sort of cookware do I need to make the best Mexican food? This is my main question.

I enjoyed the process of studying which wok to buy and hearing the reasoning behind it. Any tips as to which cookware is the best for Mexican and why, would be greatly appreciated.

I'm less interested in recipes at this point, but if someone wants to throw out a simple recipe for me to start with, it would be much appreciated.

Any random tips are welcome, including books or blogs. I'm a big reader.


El Bandito

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  1. One book to try might be The Tortilla Book by Diana Kennedy.

    1. Bandito, You can make almost anything with a good and sturdy set of basic cookware - saute pan, sauce pan, stock pot, Dutch oven, fry pan. I cook all kinds of food - East Asian, Southeast Asian, Mexican and other Latin, French, Italian, Indian - and have for many years with very few pieces of special equipment.

      Which of those basic pieces you should use depends on the recipe. What do you think you'd like to learn to cook first? :)

      1. Ceramic cookware is probably to be preferred for a lot of it, but a bit of an investment for a beginner. Mexican food doesn't really run to a lot of exotic processses, you should be fine with good quality, regular cookware. If the kind of stuff you are interested in are the more familiar dishes like tacos and enchiladas, you won't have to search far in these pages for numerous conflicting recipes and opinions. If you want to delve deeper, and for a great read, Diana Kennedy's "The Cuisines of Mexico" is pretty much the standard. For historical perspective, and some good basic recipes, you might try do dig up a copy of Elena Zelayeta's 1944 book "Elena's Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes", or her "Secrets of Mexican Cooking" (I think she had one or two more, too). Rick Bayless seems to be the current fave; I'm not familiar with his books. And best of luck.

        1. I don't have any special cookware for when I cook Mexican food, though I know some people might recommend an olla for beans. If you get advanced, you might want to invest in a tortilla press, but I find little difficulty working with just a standard saute pan, Dutch oven, a food processor and a mortar and pestle.

          1. What kind of cookware? Anything cheap! Traditionally they used various clay pots, even clay griddles, but now inexpensive steel works for griddles, and almost anything for stews (enameled steel and aluminum are quite popular and inexpensive).


            1. Your standard cooking fare should do the trick. A Dutch Oven wouldn't be bad for any braises, and a tortilla press can be had cheaply if you want to make your own tortillas. I haven't had to go out and buy anything for any of the recipes I've tried. I think the general concensus is that Kennedy and Bayless are the best cookbook authors for Mexican.

              2 Replies
              1. re: MyNameIsTerry

                I love Bayless' Mexican Everyday. It's geared towards a home cook who might not have tons of special equipment, and he also provides a lot of work-arounds. It's also got a good glossary of Mexican ingredients.

                1. re: DeeCee

                  I'm a Bayless guy as well. I love his decriptions of areas and the food -- it really shows his passion for the country, people and food. His recipes are fantastic as well. I've got Mexico One Plate at a Time as well as Authentic Mexican.

              2. If you're going to make your own tortillas, a tortilla press will make your life easier.

                1. El bandito, welcome to the world of Mexican cuisine. May there be many frijoles in your future.

                  Here are a few tools that will ease your fabrication of two of the basics: tortillas, and refried beans.

                  Hoping you already have a good 12" cast iron skillet. You can use it as a comal to cook tortillas, and it is great for refried beans.

                  A quickstart order from Amazon are these three (note that all are free shipping)...

                  Tortilla press (pure cast aluminum, not coated pot metal):

                  Potato masher for refried beans:

                  Sunset cookbook:

                  I mention the Sunset Cookbook because it is extremely simple and has a picture on every page and was the entry book for lots of cooks, including me in the 1980's.

                  Soon I got hold of Kennedy's classics. (At this time Bayless was not yet on the Mex scene, and was still working at his parents' BBQ joint here in OKC.) As you progress, you will want to read Kennedy, but the downside is that illustrations are line-drawings only. She was the Diva who introduced North America to cuisines farther south.

                  But first I'd read Bayless. The metro libraries have all his books, and online used ones are cheaper and save trees. He also shares recipes online:


                  Buen apetito!

                  1. A few years ago I got hooked on Mexican cuisine myself and have done just fine with what I have on hand. I just recently bought an inexpensive tortilla press - less than $15! Haven't made my own tortillas yet - I actually purchased it to make the wraps for Mu Shu Pork - Works like a dream by the way - no more rolling and rolling and rolling!!

                    A few little things I picked up to make my life easier were a mini-juicer for limes (I used to just fork them - but a juicer is nice and you get more juice and less pulp), some plastic bowls and spoons for making pico and other acidic items so there's no unwanted reaction.

                    Here's a quick and easy recipe for you - Pico de Gallo (everybody's recipe for this is slightly different - I like to keep it plain and simple). Take 3 or 4 tomatoes and seed and dice them small. Dice up a shallot and a jalapeno pepper (use a serrano if you want more heat). Chop up some cilantro (about a nice handful). Add salt (I use coarse sea salt) and a bit of pepper and then squeeze the juice of a lime over it all - stir, chill (you don't have to) and enjoy! This recipe takes me less than 15 minutes (if I'm only using 3 or 4 tomatoes and not a great big batch) and tastes way better than store bought salsas IMHO. You can put this on anything as well - tacos, burritos, taquitos, quesadillas, etc.

                    Lastly, have fun and try new things - to me culinary adventure is the spice of life!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: nsstampqueen

                      Allright, I'll bite- how (and why) do you fork a lime?

                      1. re: oldunc

                        Ok, forking a lime is just a method of squeezing it - you cut the lime in half, insert a fork in the flesh and twist and squeeze to get the most juice out. I find I have had to do that as we have difficulty getting really nice ripe juicy limes here in this part of Canada. I also seem to lack the wrist and finger strength to get a really good squeeze without assistance (ok so I'm a little bit of a wimp don't hold it against me!). Does that make sense now?

                        1. re: nsstampqueen

                          Sorta, though I wouldn't care to try it. I recently bought a lime squeezer, too, to ease the burden on my increasingly arthritic wrists- still have to finish them by hand. But it does work for tangerines. Then there's the Emeril method- cut it in half, give it a single squeeze with one hand- and damn the seeds- and toss out the rest.

                            1. re: sushigirlie

                              I have one of these too! It's wonderful.

                        2. re: nsstampqueen

                          In many Mexican kitchens a blender gets more use than a tortilla press. Good corn tortillas can be bought from the neighborhood tortilleria, while the blender gets frequent use in make salsas.

                          A new kid on the block for internet recipes and recommendations, as well as a PBS show is http://patismexicantable.com/

                        3. As others have said, you can probably get by just fine with what you've got. But if you're looking to expand your range of equipment, you would be wise to get yourself a molcajete. There's really no better way to grind your own garlic, cumin and pepper (which is the basis of many sauces in my home). When you first get it, it will be pretty rough, so grind rice in it until it rinses clean. After that, you're set to go.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: gilintx

                            Thanks for this tip. Could you please elaborate on "grind rice it until it rinses clean?" How many times, how long, what happens if you don't, that sorta thing.

                            Thank you.

                            1. re: el bandito

                              This might help:


                              I kinda want one, but figuring that I'd probably only use it a couple times a year, it probably finally get well seasoned by the time my family inherited it. ;)

                              1. re: el bandito

                                Basically, what tHoey1963 posted. Molcajetes are generally sold in a pretty rough state. You need to grind rice and a touch of water until the rinsing water starts to run clear, and the inside surface is somewhat smooth. How many times? Don't know. How long? No idea. If you don't? You'll eat some volcanic rock in your food, which I don't think is deadly or anything, but probably a little gritty. This is a utensil that will last long beyond you, so go ahead and put in your time. Think of it as a cast-iron pan; you can pass this on.

                                1. re: gilintx

                                  Agree molcajetes need to be "seasoned" before using and grinding rice is the most typical way to do so. But you don't want to buy a molcajete that is too pourous, too rough on the interior or you'll never get it seasoned. These poorer quality molcajetes tend to breakdow perpetually and you always seem to end up with grit in the food. Look for molcajetes that are somewhat smooth with smaller holes. These are easier tp season and don't deterioate with every use.

                              2. re: gilintx

                                If you get a regular, medium sized mortar and pestle you can grind most whole spices with a pinch of kosher salt. These 'tiny rocks' will make short work of most seeds - my only failure is with the devilish achiote.

                                Kosher salt might work to 'season' a finer grained molcajete. I've never bought one here because they looked too coarse and crude.

                                1. re: DiveFan

                                  You can't grind it in a grinder, either. Don't even consider grinding turmeric, you need a diamond wheel and a team of extra large oxen.

                              3. For a beginners cookbook, I highly recommend Rick Bayless 'Authentic Mexican'. From my historical perspective, it perfectly nails the simpler but traditional dishes that have become the minimum standard today. For now I would stay away from the Sunset and Elena Zelayeta books - the recipes are mostly too Americanized and under spiced; we have many more ingredient options these days.

                                The blender suggestion is a great one. Don't wimp out - get a heavy duty 'prosumer' level immersion or conventional model. Freshly made salsas (dried or fresh chiles) are the most important and versatile recipes to make!

                                If you don't have a cast iron pan, get a round carbon steel comal (under $10) which heats up fast and is perfect for cooking tortillas, roasting garlic, crisping quesadillas, burritos, etc.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: DiveFan

                                  For $3.99, Sunset has value. There are joys to be had in the transitional.

                                2. Thanks everyone for the great tips! This'll proud a nice foundation.

                                  1. El Bandito, I'm posting this from Coatepec, Veracruz Mexico where I am currently doing a cooking intensive with Rick Bayless &Roberto Santibanez for chefs &food professionals.

                                    Previous posters are right, you don't need a lot of fancy equipment to get started in Mexican cooking. A lime squeezer (metal is sturdier than plastic), a tortilla press, regular skillets, regular stock pots, a GOOD blender. A good source for these items is MexGrocer.com

                                    Since you like to read, Diana Kennedy's first 2 books, The Cuisines of Mexico & The Art of Mexican Cooking, are exceptionally ggod reads and wiil provide you with the cultural and some historical context.

                                    The best beginner cookbook I know of that is not dumbed down but still approachable is Baylesses SalsasThat Cook. It's a slim volume with 8 essential sauces in various yiels and with various chile substitutions, followed by 50 recipes using those sauces.

                                    Mexican cuisine has tremendous breadth and depth. Start with simple table sauces snd soups and work up from there. Mexican recipes are not particularly difficult, but they are labor intensive. Techniques are different too since the cuisine is not rooted in European or North American technique. Most ingredients are fairly inexpensive so you can play around with them while mastering technique.

                                    Good luck and jusr have fun with it

                                    1. I love to cook Mexican food. I use my blender a lot for making sauces, it's a must. I also like my cast iron flat iron grill for meats $20, it's gets super hot, and I can get meat med rare, but with crispy edges. I use it to char peppers for chile rellenos. I use a fork for limes and lemons, and I use my Chinese bamboo steamer for my tamales, I can get more in there, and it works great.

                                      1. my cast iron cookware works well for mexican (and everything else); my blender is not great for tomatillo salsa, but works for my red salsa del molcajete; ironically i have a molcajete but don't use it really; so i make the tomatillo salsa in the food processor; i also use my crockpot instead of the olla for beans; frijoles de la crockpot anyone? those Diana K books are great (read them all) :)

                                        1. If you can invest in only 1 piece of equipment for Mexican cooking (other than small wares such as juicers and tortilla presses) make it a Vita-Mix blender. It does a very good job on blending dried chile skins and nuts. Most Mexican sauces -such as mole - should be silky smoot and home blenders can't achieve that but the Vita-Mix can. Blenders are the work horse of the Mexican kitchen. The Vita-Mix is the work horse of the Mexican restaurant kitchen. . . Even in Mexico

                                          1. I recently started cooking Mexican food, and in addition to a blender (it's a little one that is perfect for salsa, chopping onions etc) I found the tortilla press was essential - I live in the UK and it's near on impossible to find decent store bought ones. I also started with a tortilla skillet that did one at a time but soon moved on to a bigger one that I could do three to four.

                                            1. I don't know if you are actually wanting to cook Mexican or Tex Mex? I am a huge Tex Mex fan & any cookbooks by Matt Martinez will get you to cooking some real good food.

                                              www.homesicktexan.com is a great place to get simple recipes that don't require a lot of hard to find ingredients. Her recipe for flour tortillas is the real deal & so simple to make. Maybe she has 2 recipes listed...use the one that requires whole milk. Trust me on this one, I have tried for years to make decent tortillas that taste like the ones you get in a real taco joint. Do try your hand at it...guaranteed success!!

                                              Mexican cooking & Tex Mex don't require special equipment. Your post is several months old but if you need any other advice, let me know. I lean very much toward Tex Mex instead of Mexican...just what I was brought up on & know how to cook.

                                              Also, go to Amazon & search for Texas Cookbooks...you will find many. I collect cookbooks along that line & can suggest which ones you might enjoy.

                                              Muy Bueno!

                                              1. This is as basic as it gets, I'd suggest using canned enchilada sauce, Old El Paso or Las Palmas, available everywhere.