Some of them are pretty normal items or ingredients wherever you live; other things you may never have heard of before. They have this in common: most Mexican families would be lost without them!
I'm not including here the usual items like pans, utensils, the fridge and the oven, etc, just the ones that are not as universal, and are more specifically used in Mexico.
I had never heard of a comal before I came to México. But without a comal, how can you heat up your tortillas? A large frying pan could substitute it but you won't fit many tortillas flat in a frying pan. That is what a comal is for. It's a large flat metal plate, usually round but often rectangular, without sides. It sits on a ring or two rings of your stove, or it may be part of your stove; a rectangular plate that fits over a long burner in the middle of the stove.
Once you've lived with one you will wonder how you ever managed without it!
|A very big comal on a street market stall; the household versions are much smaller but the design is basically the same!|
Exprimidor (lime squeezer)
Another implement I'd never come across before living in Mexico, and it's so simple, but so useful. It is a handheld lime squeezer, slightly resembling a garlic crusher, but lime-sized and shaped. This way you avoid getting lime juice all over your fingers and it stops the pips from going into your food or drink. Very handy!
This is the one kitchen appliance you must have. You need it to make delicious homemade salsas, sauces for cooking, soups, and it's essential for your breakfast smoothie in the mornings.
Olla express (pressure cooker) or olla de barro (earthenware cooking pot)
One of the staples of Mexican food is frijoles - beans - which can be eaten in a variety of dishes and at any time of day. It's quite common here to buy the dried beans which take a long time to cook - normally about three hours - whereas with a pressure cooker they're done in less than an hour. However, the traditional method of cooking beans is in an earthenware cooking pot, which apparently adds a special flavour to the beans.
The pressure cooker is also very useful for other popular dishes and ingredients such as lentils, chicken consomé, chickpeas and corn on the cob as it considerably cuts the cooking time.
It's important to have plenty of limes on hand as they could be required at any and every meal, whether you squeeze lime juice onto your salad, soup, tacos, fish, in your beer or you just want to make agua de limón (like traditional lemonade with water, sugar and lime juice). Lime juice (usually with salsa too) is also mandatory on all botanas, or savoury snacks; crisps (potato chips), peanuts and seeds, chicharrón (light and crispy pork crackling), cucumber and jicama slices, etc.
Obviously. The most common type of chilli you will need is the fresh green Serrano chilli, used to make salsas, finely chopped with onion and tomato in pico de gallo or any dish a la mexicana, or just bite into a whole chilli to add a little more, well, bite to whatever you're eating!
Other common chillies are the chiles en vinagre - pickled jalapeños. I personally don't like them but they're very popular and you can buy them in a tin. Chile chipotle - smoked jalapeños - are also usually bought tinned and used in a wide variety of dishes and salsas. Then it may be a good idea to have some dried chillies in your cupboard, such as chile de árbol, a long thin red chilli that's quite hot, or the very mild but deep-flavoured chile pasilla or chile ancho. And not forgetting chilli powder - Tajín is the most popular, and not hot at all. It's a mix of chilli, salt and dehydrated lime juice, and is a firm favourite, especially with children, sprinkled on fruit, cucumber or jicama.
You can't beat corn tortillas still warm from the tortillería and they can accompany most meals just as they are, heated up on the comal, wrapped in a cloth and placed in a tortillero, a special container with a lid that keeps them warcm on the table. You can also use them in the preparation of your meal; as tacos with a filling, in enchiladas, filled rolled up and fried to make flautas, filled with cheese to make quesadillas... the possibilities are endless! An alternative to the corn tortilla is the wheat flour tortilla, especially delicious as a quesadilla or a sincronizada - a kind of sandwich with cheese, ham and salad between two tortillas.
If you're not going to accompany your meal with tortillas, you will have to have bolillos, a very Mexican bread roll. They're just the right size, about as long as your hand and eye-shaped. They should be crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, usually white bread, but you can get wholemeal versions. Some meals, like fish for example, go better with bolillo than tortillas. The bolillo is also used to make a torta, the Mexican version of a sandwich. Cut the bread roll open and fill it with whatever you like and spread avocado on the inside like butter to make it even more delicious.
I mentioned beans earlier but they really are a staple of Mexican cuisine. Black beans or the lighter coloured bayo beans are the most common types. They are usually an accompaniment or side dish, either whole or puréed (refritos) for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They can also be part of the dish; scrambled with eggs for breakfast, spread on a bolillo and topped with melted cheese to make molletes for supper or a mid-morning snack, served as crema de frijol (cream of black bean soup) or enfrijoladas - tortillas dipped in bean purée, filled with cheese and fried. These are just a few examples. You really can't go wrong with frijoles; they are cheap and nutritious, rich in iron and fibre.
|Dried black beans before being soaked overnight and cooked|
This is just a taster of what goes on in the Mexican kitchen. If you're hungry for more, try reading my Things to do in Mexico when you're hungry series of Mexican food posts, each one focusing on a specific dish or ingredient.