Overall, Latin American food products are becoming more available as the Latin population and interest in our neighbors to the South grows. Most products needed for cooking Mexican and other Latin American dishes are widely available in Mexican grocery stores and supermarkets throughout the nation. Specialty markets featuring specific Latin cuisines also are abundant in Los Angeles. Check the Yellow Pages for stores near you.
To help you identify the products more readily, here is a glossary of some of the commonly used products for Mexican and other Latin American cuisines.
Achiote--The pulp made from a shrub used as a seasoning in Yucatan cooking.
Bacalao--The Spanish word for cod fish, which is popular throughout Latin America.
Bananas--Bananas are often substituted for plantains, when used in cooking.
Banana leaves--Used to wrap foods for steaming. Grocery stores carry fresh leaves.
Beans--A staple in the Mexican diet, many types, such as black beans, garbanzo beans (also called chick peas), kidney beans and the traditional red or pink pinto beans, are available.
Cassava--Also known as manioc or yucca, the root is peeled to use as one would a potato or to add to stews. Cassava is also fried to make chips.
Chayote--A pear-shaped, roughly ridged green vegetable is used much like zucchini.
Chiles--There are numerous hot and mild, fresh and dried pepper varieties, which are the basic seasoning of Mexican and other Latin cuisine. Here are some of them found fresh and/or dried in markets:
-- Anchos : sweet, mild pickle-type peppers similar in appearance to California chiles and somewhat smaller. They are deep red in color and are used to produce paprika.
--California (chile verde) : A moderately hot fresh green chile used for stuffing (as in chiles rellenos ).
--Jalapeno: Small green chiles ranging from mild to very hot. Jalapenos pickles are available bottled or canned.
-- Chilitipin : Also called chilitipiquin , they are the very hot, small red chiles used in making hot sauce.
--Colorado: The mild, sweet dried red chiles.
-- Pasillas : Red or green chiles used in chile sauces.
-- Poblano : The mild chiles similar in size and use to green peppers.
--Serrano: Very hot, small green chiles when picked unripe, and red when ripe. They are commonly used in pickling.
Chili powder--The powder form of dried red peppers, including ancho and pasilla .
Chorizo--The traditional all-pork Mexican sausage in peppery casings.
Chicharrones--Fried pork rinds sold in packages in supermarkets and Latin American grocery stores.
Cilantro--The leaves of the coriander plant, also known as fresh coriander or Chinese parsley, are used widely as flavoring and garnish.
Coriander--The dried seeds of the coriander plant are used in sweet and savory dishes. The fresh leaves are used in cooking or fresh in salads.
Cumin--Ground or whole seeds of a plant in the parsley family is a favorite flavoring in many Latin dishes.
Hot pepper sauce--The liquid extracted from the pulp of hot red chiles used as a condiment.
Jicama--A root vegetable with leathery brown skin and white, crisp, juicy flesh similar to water chestnuts is eaten raw or may be cooked.
Masa--Known as masa harina in markets, where it is sold in packages like flour. The reconstituted flour makes a dough used for tortillas and tamales.
Mexican chocolate--Tablets of chocolate flavored with cinnamon and other spices are used in making a chocolate beverage or sauces.
Nopales--The pads of cactus, which are eaten as a vegetable. The thorns (but not skin) are removed before using when fresh. They are also available canned or pickled.
Pepitas--Pumpkin seeds used to thicken sauces or roasted to eat as snacks.
Plantains-- Platanos in Spanish, plantains are a tropical banana from a plant yielding large, discolored green bananalike fruit, which are eaten as a cooked vegetable or added to stews.
Pumpkin seeds: (see Pepitas )
Tamarind--Brown flat, curved pods of a leguminous tree that are used as a flavoring in beverages and candy.
Tomatillos--The small green tomatolike vegetable with a papery coat is sold fresh or canned to use in sauces.
Tortillas (Mexican)--Flattened bread made of either wheat or corn flour. Commonly available in markets. They are eaten plain, spread with butter or other suitable spread or wrapped around numerous fillings.
Tortilla (Spanish)--Omelet made with eggs, onion, potatoes and other ingredients added or not.
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Anyone who eats out has a ready vocabulary of Mexican and other Latin American cooking terms and dishes. But, if you ever find yourself groping for the name of a dish that escapes you, here is a description of some of them:
Antichuchos (Peru)--Barbecued beef hearts on a skewer.
Arroz con pollo--Probably a cousin of paella, chicken is cooked in the pan with rice.
Bolillos--Mexican bread rolls shaped like torpedoes.
Ceviche--Raw fish marinated in lime juice eaten as appetizers.