Southwestern cooking pairs Mexican cuisine with a little California ingenuity. The result is a hot, trendy taste that's popping up on dining tables throughout the country. Here's a list of the key ingredients to keep on hand for Southwestern recipes:
BEANS: Also known as frijoles (free-HO-lays), beans fill tortillas and flavor soups, sauces and salads. Pinto beans, often refried, are most popular. Other well-liked types are garbanzo, black and fava beans.CHILI PEPPERS: These peppers come in all sorts of sizes, colors and degrees of hotness. Serrano and jalapeno, the best known, are both fiery hot; poblano and anaheim are much milder.
CHORIZO (chuh-REE-zo): This spicy Mexican pork sausage, available in bulk or link, is delicious in fillings for tortilla-based dishes.
CILANTRO (suh-LAHN-tro): Also known as fresh coriander or Chinese parsley, cilantro adds an aromatic flavor to salsas and sauces. Season to taste; a little goes a long way.
CUMIN (CUH-min): The foundation of most chili powders, this nutty, slightly bitter ground spice peps up chili, beef, fish and soups.
JICAMA (HEE-kah-mah): The best thing about this potatolike tuber is its crunchy texture, raw or cooked. Expect a mild, slightly sweet flavor. Peel, slice, and try jicama raw with lime or use it in stir-fries.
MASA (MAH-sah): The base for corn tortillas and tamales, masa is a dried corn dough. You can't buy this dough because it's highly perishable. But you can buy masa harina (MAH-sah ah-REE-nah), a special mix for making tortilla dough.
SALSA: The ketchup of Southwestern cuisine, salsa is an uncooked sauce usually made from tomatoes, onions, chilies and cilantro.
TOMATILLO (toe-mah-TEE-yo): This green, baby tomato-like vegetable comes wrapped in a husk and has a tart, lemony flavor. Tomatillos are usually cooked and used in sauces and salsas. Canned tomatillos are available in some large supermarkets.
TORTILLAS (tor-TEE-as): Both corn and flour tortillas are staples. Traditionally, tostadas, tacos, flautas and enchiladas are made from corn tortillas; chimichangas and burritos from flour tortillas. Because flour tortillas are easier to roll, you may prefer them for flautas.
BLUE CORN: When choosing chips, tortillas or even cornmeal, check out the blue versions, made from blue corn. The unusual color is the attraction; blue cornmeal tastes no different than other cornmeals.