Kitchen Tips – Deconstructing [Americanized] Mexican Food

The week that my husband and I moved, I carved out a little time for a “ladies night” with some friends. We planned a low key evening of dinner and drinks at Uncle Julio’s followed by a romantic comedy, “Ghost Town,” which was rated by Paste Magazine as one of the 17 Best Romantic Comedies of the Decade (it wasn’t).

During the dinner portion of the evening, I found myself asking a lot of questions about what things were. My friends were pretty surprised by this, and they demanded that I dedicate a post to understanding Mexican food. Gladly!

I hope this list helps all of you as much as it helped me! Please note that these definitions are generalizations that apply to Americanized Mexican food, and of course there are variations.

  • Quesadilla – A tortilla that is filled with cheese (queso), folded (not wrapped) and cooked until the cheese melts.
  • Chorizo – A fatty pork sausage.
  • Tamales – Can have a variety of fillings including meat, cheeses, vegetables or chilis, but it is generally steam-cooked corn dough wrapped in a softened corn husk before cooking. It is tied together and steamed until the dough is cooked, and the corn husk is peeled back before eating.
  • Fajita – Marinated grilled meat cut into strips on a corn or flour tortilla, often with peppers. The tortilla is usually then wrapped.
  • Burrito – A flour tortilla folded and rolled to completely enclose the filling (generally beans, rice, cheese and/or meat).
  • Taco – Usually a hard, folded corn tortilla stuffed with various fillings like meat, cheese, lettuce, etc.
  • Enchilada – A softened corn tortilla folded around a filling (the ends are left open, unlike a burrito). Often topped with a tomato-based sauce and cheese.
  • Chile relleno – A roasted poblano pepper stuffed with cheese and sometimes meat. The pepper is dipped in a batter and fried.
  • Taquito (or flauta) – A small, thin, rolled up tortilla (usually with a meat filling) and fried until crispy.
  • Chimichanga – A fried or deep-fried burrito (ends tucked in). Also filled with similar ingredients to a burrito.

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