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15 Mexican food words you’ve always wondered about, plus how to cook them at home

by: Katy Rose | 31 Jan 2019
Mexican food, food glossary, mexican recipes, taco

Mexican food has a fun, versatility to it that just begs to be made at home, but the terminology and names can leave even the best home cook scratching their heads.  

We put together this handy guide to help you in the kitchen, or when you’re ordering at your neighbourhood restaurant. It all starts with the foundation, the tortilla: 

1. Tortilla - “tore-tee-yah”
A thin, round unleavened bread (that is, made without yeast). It can either be made from wheat flour or more traditionally, corn or maize flour. It is the most important ingredient in Mexican style cooking. Sometimes called a ‘tostado’

2. Burrito - “boar-reeto”
A soft flour tortilla, rolled and filled with a protein (such as chicken, beef or pork) and rice and beans. Lettuce and salad is optional. The burrito is usually wrapped up and eaten with the hand.

3. Queso - “case-soh”
The spanish word for cheese. Usually refers to a medium hard yellow cheese. 

START HERE: Try these 4 made-in-Mexico recipes in the comfort of your home

4. Chimichanga - “tchimmy - tchanga”
A deep-fried burrito. Say no more. 

5. Chilaquiles - “chee-lah-kee-less”
A breakfast dish of crisp tortilla pieces, fried in a tomato sauce topped with fried or scrambled eggs. Chilaquiles are like nachos, but for breakfast. 

6. Taco - “tah-koh”
Tacos are smaller sized tortillas, almost always made of a coarser corn grain. They can be soft and pliable, or fried into a U shape to form a crisp shell that holds the filling. The common style is a layer of protein like beef at the bottom of the U, topped with tomato salsa, shredded lettuce, avocado and grated cheese. Tacos are eaten with your hands. Cook this: Chicken tacos with crunchy slaw. 

Mexican food, food glossary, mexican recipes, taco

7. Heuvos rancheros - “where-vohs ranch-aeros”

A Mexican breakfast dish that means “ranch-style eggs”. The main ingredients are fried eggs and corn tortillas, served with any number of fried beans, salsa, peppers, coriander or cheese.

8. Guacamole - “gwoak-ah-moh-lee”
A condiment made from fresh avocados, lime juice, coriander, onions and tomato. The sauce can be made smoother like a dip, or chopped chunkier like a salsa. 

COOKING TIPS: How to make the best guacamole

9. Enchilada - “enn-chee-lah-da”
This is lightly fried tortilla, rolled and filled with beef or chicken and vegetables. The enchiladas are then covered in a spicy red tomato sauce, and baked in an oven with melted cheese over the top. RECIPE: Easy beef enchiladas

Mexican food, food glossary, mexican recipes, taco

10.Chipotle - “chee-poht-lay”

Smoked jalapeno peppers. Chipotle has a sweet spicy and smokey flavour. Try cooking with chipotle with this Mexican chipotle chicken casserole.

Mexican food, food glossary, mexican recipes, taco

11. Quesadilla - “kase-ah-dee-yah”

Popular in Tex Mex cuisine (American style Mexican food), a quesadilla is essentially a Mexican toasted cheese sandwich. Cheese and meat, such as spicy beef, shredded chicken or pulled pork , are layered with cheese between two tortillas. The tortilla “sandwich” is then cooked on a flat cooking surface until the cheese melts and fuses the layers all together. 

12. Mole - “mow-lay”
This traditional spiced sauce is famous for the inclusion of dark chocolate. The sauce, however is not sweet, but rather delicately spiced. It is usually served with chicken and rice. Also known as ‘mole poblano’ . 

13. Fajitas - “fah-hee-tahs”
This is a soft tortilla, filled with fried steak strips, caramelised onions and red peppers. The steak and peppers are often served sizzling on a cast iron dish, with the various components on the side. You can then build your own fajita to your liking; they are usually eaten with your hands. 

14. Nachos - “natch-ohs”
Small pieces of corn tortillas are deep fried to form crisp chips. They are layered with cheese, peppers, chicken or beef and then baked under the grill. The chips with melted cheese are eaten with your hands, and often served with dipping sauces like salsa, sour cream or guacamole. 

Mexican food, food glossary, mexican recipes, taco

COOK THIS: 5 Super tasty nachos recipes to spice up your week

15.  Cojita - "koh-hee-tah"
A firm, salty cheese that is similar to parmesan cheese. It is most commonly served with grilled mielies. 

Restaurant guide: The best Mexican restaurants across SA

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