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Cooking Mexican Food- What NOT to do

How to keep your Mexican cooking authentic and delicious

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For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Mexican Food is cheesy, drippy platefuls of tacos and enchiladas.  But most Mexican dishes are actually far from that.  Here are some common mistakes in cooking Mexican food, how to avoid them, and delicious recipes to try out.

1. Pouring chile sauce ("hot sauce") over the whole dish

Hot Sauce
Overwhelming Hot Sauce

For some people, the first thing they do is grab the bottle of Tapatio (or other hot sauce) and start shaking the bright red chile sauce all over the food.  While in many cases chile sauce does in fact add a nice zing, it can over-power the flavor of the dish if you add too much.  So before you douse your dish in chile sauce, take a few bites and add a few dashes as necessary.  And don't feel like you're not getting the full authentic Mexican food experience if you don't add spicy chile sauce to every meal.  For a flavorful dish, try this Chile Colorado which is made with Red Chiles and has loads of chile flavor. 

2. Cheese, cheese and more cheese

Cheesey Burrito
Cheese Overload

Native Mexicans had a very low-fat and dairy-free diet that consisted mostly of corn, chiles, tomatoes and the occasional protein such as turkey, iguana and eggs. So the idea of stuffing everything full of cheese is relatively new.  Most authentic Mexican dishes don't use cheese at all, but rely on delicious sauces to add flavor and creaminess.  So before you go piling cheese on that taco, try it with a simple sprinkling of onions and cilantro.  And yes, a few sprinkles of chile sauce if the mood strikes.  Try these authentic Papadzules which are similar to enchiladas, but instead of cheese they are stuffed with egg and topped with a creamy pumpkin-seed sauce.

3. Store-bought taco shells

Store-Bought Taco Shells
Terrible Tacos

While it might seem like a quick and easy way to make a meal, those pre-formed, crunchy taco shells that you can buy off the shelf are a travesty to authentic Mexican food.  They are basically a taco-shaped chip and are laden with fat, calories and processed corn.  Real corn tortillas are made from masa, which is very different from ground corn, and can be quickly steamed for a healthy and delicious taco shell.  If crunchy is what you crave, just cook the tortilla in a bit of hot oil until it begins to crisp up, and fold it in half while it cools on paper towels. 

4. Too much meat

Meat Burrito
Meat Madness

I sometimes marvel at the overloaded, overstuffed burritos that are common in the U.S.  Even some tacos are a meal in themselves.  Mexican food is not all about immense piles of carne asada and carnitas.  While those are delicious, a bit of meat on a small corn tortilla topped with fresh produce such as onions, cilantro, shredded cabbage, fresh tomatoes, sliced avocado is the more authentic way to go.  Try some Chilorio in your next taco or burrito, it has a lot of flavor, so a little goes a long way. For a meaty stew try some Chile Verde.

5. Not everything is fried and greasy

Deep Fryer
Deep Fried Chimichanga

With the exception of a few dishes, most authentic Mexican food is not fried or fatty.  These are new additions from the blend of cuisines across the border.  Things like nachos, chimichangas, fajitas, wet burritos, fried ice cream and other fried, calorie-laden dishes are not authentic Mexican food at all.  They fall into the category of Cal-Mex or Tex-Mex.  Most authentic Mexican food consists of slow-cooked or grilled meat, fresh produce, fresh seafood and slow-cooked stews. For a fresh non-fried taco, make your own tortillas and serve them fresh and hot, topped with your favorite meat and some fresh chopped onion and cilantro. 

6. Drowning in guacamole

Guacamole
Goops of Guacamole

Guacamole is one of the most delicious toppings I can think of, right after fresh salsa.  But smothering everything in layers of it is overkill.  And to top it off, some verisons of restaurant and store-bought guacamole are almost watery or full of processed fillers, so keep it real and make it at home.  And just a dollop will do when adding it to your dish.  Here is a great video showing you how to make delicious Guacamole. And if you want to keep it really simple, just add a slice or two of avocado instead.

7. Too much of everything

Nacho Overkill
Nacho Overkill

Salsa, good.  Shredded beef, good.  But when you pile on monster porportions of these delicious ingredients, you get a pile of something that is definitley not Mexican food.  Avoid topping overkill by using them sparingly.  A little of each one adds up to a reasonable amount.  For a better crunchy snack try these Molletes which are toasted bolilos toppped with beans and sometimes salsa.

Related Video
How to Make Chimichangas
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