When it comes to popular ethnic cuisines, Mexican is up there at the top of the list. People love Mexican food and eat it every chance they get. The truth is, however, that many of the fast food places aren’t serving authentic Mexican cuisine. Fast food Mexican is filled with fats and unhealthy ingredients whereas authentic Mexican cuisine is made with fresh veggies, fruit, protein, spices, and herbs. Mexican food is rich in history, with influences from many different cultures including Europe, South America, the Caribbean, India, China, and Africa. Mexico has given us the gifts of chocolate, vanilla, peanuts, coconuts, beans, and tomatoes.
It also doesn’t have to be filled with meat and dairy. You can make the most amazing Mexican dishes with only fresh, plant-based ingredients. So the next time you have a craving for Mexican food, skip the fast food joint and get in the kitchen. It’s time to learn how to create your own Mexican fiesta.
1. Herbs and Spices
We’ll start with aromatics, herbs, and spices because they are what can make the same basic ingredient taste unique. Every culture has its own ethnic flavor profile and knowing which aromatics, herbs, and spices to use can help us make flavorful Mexican dishes that taste authentic, like this Mexican-Spiced Tofu Scramble and this Sloppy Mexican-Spiced Roasted Sandwich.
Mexico uses fresh onions and garlic in their dishes. While it is traditional to cook with lard, more and more people are making the healthier choice of vegetable oil or olive oil. Learn how to infuse your own olive oil with herbs and spices for even extra flavor. Mexico favors spices such as annatto, cumin, Mexican oregano, cilantro, bay, cinnamon, cloves, anise, and epazote. Epazote is a pungent spice that is often used to flavor beans and aid in digestion. Cocoa is used in savory dishes such as mole sauce as well as in desserts. Play with Mexican spices to make your own Delicious Fajita Seasoning that you can use on any dish, such as these Portobello Fajitas. Check out “10 Mexican Spices to Spike Up Your Meals” for even more flavors. Another great way to find plant-based options for Mexican classics is the Food Monster App, a food app available for both Android and iPhone that includes recipes for vegan versions of popular world cuisine.
Many types of chilis are used in Mexican cuisine, such as jalapeño, ancho, chipotle, habanero, and serrano. They can be red or green, used fresh, whole, dried, or powdered. In fact, chilis, rather than tomatoes, are the main ingredient in Mexican sauces such as my Ancho Chili Sauce (Enchilada Sauce). Use chili peppers to make dishes, like this Green Chili Nacho Cheese Sauce, Jalapeño Zucchini Fritters, and this Spinach and Bean Chipotle Casserole. If you’re worried the peppers will be too hot to handle, pair them with sweet ingredients for balance, like this Serrano Pepper and Sweet Pea Soup and Peach Habanero Hot Sauce.
Mexican tortillas are flatbreads made from flour or corn. You can make your own tortillas at home; it’s easier than you might think. Try these Sprouted Whole-Wheat Tortillas and these Corn Tortillas With Masa Harina. If you’re gluten-free or grain-free, you also have lots of options. Check out 7 Ways to Make Grain-Free Tortillas and Wraps. You can even make tortillas out of veggies, like these Beet Tortillas and these Flourless Lentil Carrot Tortillas.
Tortillas can be pressed and served alongside dishes to scoop up food, like a yummy, edible utensil. They can be fried like taco shells or tostadas and loaded with delicious food. There is no end to the kind of tacos you can make, like these Chili Lime Lentil Tacos With Spicy Grilled Pineapple Salsa and these Chickpea Chorizo Tacos. If you prefer tostadas, you must try these Portobello Tostadas With Chipotle Cream and these Cauliflower Ceviche Tostadas.
Why have one tortilla when you can have two by making quesadillas? Try these Easy Veggie Loaded Quesadillas, Quesadillas With Cashew Mozzarella and Chipotle Cream, Sweet Potato Quesadillas, Cheesy Corn and Smashed Avocado Quesadillas, and even these Dessert Quesadillas.
4. Rice and Beans
Rice is served with most Mexican dishes. Mexican rice is usually made from white rice and has tomatoes, garlic, onions, and Mexican spices. It gets its red color from chili peppers. Beans or frijoles are also a staple of Mexican dishes especially pinto beans, kidney beans, and black beans. Refried beans are boiled and then fried and are commonly served as a side dish. This Cilantro, Lime, and Black Bean Rice is satisfying and delicious. If rice and beans sound too simple, see 5 Ways to Spruce Up Classic Rice and Beans. Of course, you can swap out the rice for another grain such as quinoa, farro, or millet. Try these Mexican Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers and this Farro Black Bean Mexican Bowl.
Corn is one of the staples of Mexican food and is used in a wide variety of ways. Masa harina is flour made from grinding dried corn kernels and is used to make tortillas and tamales, like these Olive Oil Tamales. Enjoy corn in recipes like this Cream Corn Gazpacho, Layered Fiesta Taco Bowl, this Mexican Elotes Bisque with Lime Crema, this Hot and Spicy Mexican Street Corn, and these Charred Corn and Black Bean Stuffed Sweet Potatoes. These Mexican Corn Pancakes With Homemade Salsa and Taco Cornmeal Pancakes are perfect for breakfast or dinner. Don’t forget dessert – you won’t want to miss out on this No-Churn Sweet Corn Ice Cream.
6. Fresh Veggies
Authentic Mexican food is filled with fresh vegetables that grow in warm climates. All kinds of vegetables are used, including potatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, and greens. These Chorizo-Spiced Potato Enchiladas are amazing, as is this Mexican Potato Hash and this Mexican Baked Sweet Potato With Cashew Cheese. This Mexican Fried Cauliflower is mouthwatering and these Roasted Cauliflower Tacos will jazz up Taco Tuesdays in a big way. If you haven’t started cooking with jackfruit and hearts of palm yet, Mexican dishes are a great way to get introduced. Read How to Make Jackfruit a Standout Substitute for Meat in All Your Dishes and Seafood Substitutions and Beyond: Learn the Best Ways to Prepare Hearts of Palm, then try these Jackfruit Carnitas With Pickled Red Onions and this Spicy Mexican Hearts of Palm Ceviche. No meal would be complete without these Mexican-Style Pickled Vegetables on the side.
7. Tomatoes and Avocados
Fresh tomatoes are a Mexican staple used in rice, salads, and soups. They are used raw with other fruits and vegetables in cold soups such as gazpacho. Try this Gazpacho with Avocado Croutons, Chipotle Gazpacho, and this 10-Minute Gazpacho With Fresh Herbs. Tomatoes are often used as a topping and filling for burritos and tacos, like these Spicy Zucchini and Tomato Tacos. Another common way to use tomatoes is in salsa which is usually made with fresh tomatoes, onions, chilis, cilantro, and spices. This Mason Jar Salsa uses big, juicy beefsteak tomatoes as well as scallions, jalapeños, and cilantro, while this Spicy Balsamic Vinegar Salsa uses fresh Roma tomatoes, cilantro, and chili powder.
Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes, but they are actually gooseberries. Tomatillos are used in many sauces and dishes and are best known for making salsa verde, a green Mexican sauce made with tomatillos, chili peppers, onion, cilantro, and lime. Learn how to make Homemade Salsa Verde or use the tomatillos in these delicious Chilaquiles.
Avocados are well-known in Mexican dishes and especially in guacamole, where it is mashed up with chilis and cilantro. You can’t go wrong with The Ultimate Guacamole. Try adding fruit, like in this Pineapple Guacamole or go for something totally new, like Fried Guacamole: Two Ways. If you make these Avocado Jalapeño Poppers, you had better triple the recipe because they are going to disappear fast.
Traditional Mexican cuisine often involves meat. Fortunately, we can make vegan versions of many Mexican specialties. Chorizo is a seasoned sausage that is common in Mexican food. Mexican chorizo is completely different from Spanish chorizo in both taste and texture. Mexican chorizo is not cured and therefore, cannot be sliced. The spices found in Mexican chorizo include cumin, coriander, chili powder, bay, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, and cloves.
Those same spices can be used with tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, and veggies to make vegan chorizo. This Homemade Chorizo Crumble is made from tofu and mushrooms. Once you learn to make your own chorizo, you can make dishes like this Chorizo Torta, Spicy Potato Casserole With Tofu Chorizo, Black Beans and Chorizo Breakfast Burrito, Chickpea Chorizo Tacos, and these Butternut Squash Tacos With Tempeh Chorizo.
Contrary to American-made Mexican-style food, authentic Mexican food is not covered with cheese and especially, not with cheddar cheese. Cheese is actually a garnish in Mexican cuisine and range from mild cheeses like queso blanco to spicy queso asadero. Make your own like this Loaded Queso Dip, Mouthwatering Queso Dip, Macadamia Nut Queso Fresco, and this Autumn Pumpkin Queso Dip.
Melting cheeses include oaxacam which is similar to mozzarella and chihuahua, which is similar to cheddar. For vegan versions with similar flavors, try making your own Moxarella Cheese or Pepper Jack Cashew Cheese. Also, try this Green Chili Nacho Cheese Sauce, Spreadable Tomato Nacho Cheese, and this Spicy Jalapeño Cashew Cheese.
10. Mexican Desserts
No meal is complete without dessert. Mexican desserts are unique in their taste, texture, and aroma as they combine hot, spicy flavors with sweet “dulce” ones. Common Mexican desserts include churros, sopaipillas, flan, tortas, and frozen ice cream called paletas. Churros are a magical treat and these Churros With Lime Sugar and Caramel Sauce are crispy, fluffy, and perfectly delicious. In a little twist from the traditional, these are topped with lime sugar and there’s rich caramel sauce for dipping. Also, try these Churros With Coconut Sugar and Chili Chocolate Sauce and these Churro Flavored Cheesecake Cups.
Make a frozen dessert, or helado, like this refreshing Margarita Ice Cream. Fried ice cream is another favorite, but this Strawberry “Unfried” Ice Cream is a healthier version with strawberry lime ice cream and a crunchy coating of spiced cacao laced with chipotle. These Cucumber Chili Paletas are Mexican ice pops made from water, fruit, and sugar, and they are a mix of contrasting flavors — sweet, sour, refreshing, and spicy. For a snack with a bit of heat, these Mexican Spiced Chocolate Covered Cashews are chocolatey and spiced with cinnamon and chili powder. Finally, these Mexican Chocolate Doughnuts are fluffy, slightly moist, and have an incredible Mexican chocolate flavor.
Going out for some Mexican fast food is fun, but it’s nothing compared to the amazing authentic Mexican food you can make at home. Try it and see how fresh and delicious plant-based Mexican dishes can be.
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Lead image source: Portobello Tostadas With Chipotle Cream