The Four “C”s of authentic Mexican Dishes

16 07 2011

Many people love americanized mexican food.  Who hasn’t enjoyed a pile of tortilla chips smothered in melted cheese, a taco salad or a mexican pizza?  And (full disclosure here) I admit to stooping to the point of melting 1 LB of velveeta cheese, mixing in a can of Rotel chilis, grabbing a bag of Tostitos and serving at parties as chili con queso.  Usually to rave reviews.

But if you’re looking for a way to eat in a more traditional fashion, I can offer these quick ingredient suggestions to achieve a more authentic dish.

Crema, instead of sour cream

Crema, instead of sour cream

Crema, instead of sour cream

While sour cream is an ingredient of crema, the inclusion of additional cream or buttermilk makes this a far superior topping to just straight-up sour cream.  Its a staple in mexican markets, or there are a number of online recipes you can try, but it takes some time for the natural cultured bacteria to acidify.  So just do yourself a favor and pick up a jar instead.


Cabbage, instead of lettuce

Cabbage, instead of lettuce

Lettuce is often used as a filler in the american versions of mexican dishes and usually doesn’t really add anything from a flavor perspective.  Real cabbage, either green or red, will give your food a tasty crunch.  Just be sure to shred it and use liberally!




I’m always disappointed when I order something from a mexican restaurant and it doesn’t have any cilantro in or on it.  Cilantro has been used for thousands of years to give a fresh and spicy lift to a variety of dishes.  And although the herb has a “love it or hate it” reputation, haters can certainly be turned with just a little exposure. More full disclosure, I used to be a hater, but now I always have cilantro in my kitchen!

TIP:  when you purchase cilantro to have at home, the best way to store it is in a glass of water in your refrigerator.  It will last a lot longer and remain fresh for up to a week.

White, crumbly cheese

White, crumbly cheese

And finally…the Cheese

There are a number of different types of cheeses that are truly authentic, but the rule of thumb is to go for something white and crumbly, not smooth and orange!  And forget about the shredded cheese bags that you can find in the grocery store that label themselves as a “mexican blend”.

Anejo, Cotija, Panela, and Queso Fresco are my favorites, so experiment and decide which one works best for you.




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