Keep staples of Mexican cuisine on hand

Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic

Cheryl Chavez, owner of Los Dos Molinos restaurant, knows what it takes to cook Mexican food.

Karen Fernau

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 20, 2002 12:00 AM

Cooking traditional Mexican dishes is easier with a well-stocked pantry. Although recipes often call for exotic ingredients such as avocado leaves, a handful of basics is versatile enough for everything from salsas to pork adovada.

"Good Mexican cooking doesn't need lots of fancy ingredients. A few basics do most of the dishes," said Cheryl Chavez, owner of Los Dos Molinos in south Phoenix and Mesa.

"For those at home, it makes sense to buy in small amounts for freshness," Chavez said. Factor in how often you cook Mexican food and the number of people you serve before buying perishable produce or dried spices.

Keep the following items on hand.

Fresh garlic: Select bulbs with large, firm cloves. Avoid those with visible green sprouts; they will taste bitter.

Comino, or cumin: Available in seeds or ground, this spice has an aromatic, nutty flavor.

Mexican oregano: This variety has a slightly bitter flavor.

Fresh onions: Choose those that are well cured and have tight, dry necks. Avoid any with blemishes, mold or cuts and store them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, in a single layer if possible.

Garlic salt: This is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent.

Fresh or dried cilantro: The bright green leaves and stems of the coriander plant have a lively, pungent flavor.

Chile flakes and chile powder: At Los Dos, the kitchen stocks only those from New Mexico, but experiment with different dried varieties to discover others you might enjoy.

Fresh or frozen chiles, including Hatch, jalapeo or other varieties: Chiles stored in airtight containers can be kept frozen for nearly one year.

Canned beef and chicken broth: Use when slow-cooking meats.

Reach the reporter at (602) 444-4779.

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