Actually, the four things really great Tex-Mex cooks do are things all great cooks do to make sure their food tastes delicious – using fresh ingredients, using spices with care, choosing their cookbooks carefully, and avoiding canned ingredients. Here is a little more information on each of the four.
- They use fresh ingredients.
Fresh is important because it gives food zest and flavor. You want to be sure to use fresh corn, tomatoes, chilies and peppers, cilantro, fruit, beans and meat in your Tex-Mex dishes.
Good cooks know that fresh ingredients are just healthier. They don’t have any chemicals and have not been processed. They are pure and more nutritious. And, as mentioned, food cooked with fresh ingredients just tastes better.
- They use spices with care.
Spices are an integral part of any tasty dish. But you have to know how to use them to add flavor. And that’s what spices should be used for – to enhance the flavor of a dish, not cover it up. So, you don’t want to use too many at any one time.
For some herbs and spices, such as oregano, thyme and basil, you want to crush it in your hand before you add it to help bring out the flavor. To produce a more distinctive flavor, add your herbs near the end of the cooking process; to produce a more blended flavor, add the herbs near the beginning of cooking.
Spices add flavor almost immediately after being added to a dish, so for dishes that take longer to cook, you want to add them near the end of the cooking process so they are still potent when you eat them.
When you use spices in meals that are not cooked, experts recommend adding them several hours before eating so that the flavors can blend in with the food flavors.
There isn’t any general rule for how much spice to add. Much depends on individual taste, and so to a great degree, experienced chefs have learned how much to use through trial and error.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is the potency of red pepper. The flavor of this spice actually becomes stronger as it is cooked, so you want to be careful how much you use, and start with only small increments.
- They use good cookbooks.
Good chefs know who the other good chefs are, and choose their cookbooks with care. They look for cookbooks that have new dishes, that are thoughtfully put together and well designed, and that are focused only on Tex-Mex cooking.
- They never use canned beans.
Again, the watchword here is freshness. And beans are one of the most important ingredients in Tex-Mex cooking, so you never want to use canned.
Tex Mex dishes are fairly easy to make, yet even the easiest of recipes can be improved upon.
Take a look below for three ways we know to make sure the Tex Mex food you prepare at home is as tasty as it can be.
- Always use the freshest of vegetables.
This holds true for any dish with veggies, of course. But because Tex Mex’s vegetables are so colorful (lettuce; red, yellow and green bell peppers; tomatoes, etc.) it’s even more important that you seek out the freshest produce you can find when you head out to your local grocery store or farmer’s market.
Fajitas just aren’t fajitas without fresh red, yellow and green bell peppers.
Green bell peppers can stay fresh (so long as they are refrigerated) for two-three weeks after the day you buy them; red and yellow bell peppers are considered fresh for one-two weeks after purchase. Tomatoes stay fresh for one week if stored on a counter and two weeks if kept in your refrigerator. A head of iceburg or romaine lettuce will stay fresh in the fridge for a week to 10 days.
- Don’t forget your spices.
It’s a myth that the more spices added to a Tex Mex recipe, the tastier the dish. Instead, the amount of spices added always should be done to your preference, not a recipe’s.
That said, spices do bring out the flavor in a Tex Mex meal. Take a look below at typical spices often used in Tex Mex dishes:
- Red onion: often used as you cook beef and chicken.
- Cilantro: absolutely necessary for homemade salsa.
- Chili peppers: habanero and jalapeño are the ones used most often.
- Lime juice: while not a spice, fresh lime juice is used in most Tex Mex marinades and adds a ton of flavor when squeezed over tacos and carnitas.
- Always aim to serve your Tex Mex meat meals sizzling hot!
This is particularly true of fajita dishes – the skirt steak should be spewing tiny liquid drops as you serve it to your guests – but it also hold true of any Tex Mex meat meal (beef, chicken, fish) because meat’s flavor just spills out onto your taste buds when it’s hot.
Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Everybody is more health conscious these days, and more aware of living in harmony with our environment. Earth Day, April 22, is one manifestation of that attitude. Another example of this concern is the trend toward eating organic – food that has not been treated with any type of chemical, which many contend are not good for our environment.
So, in recognition of Earth Day, Mattito’s is going to give a few tips on how to find the best organic foods for your Tex Mex dishes.
If you shop at your local supermarket, finding organic food is as easy as going to the organic section of the market and looking for food that is specifically labeled as organic. If, however, you are trying for something that is fresher and more local, you will probably be going to your friendly neighborhood farmer’s market, and the challenge to eat organic may be a little more difficult.
- Certified organic.
Under federal guidelines, people who sell something as organic have to be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they have to keep records of how they grow their food. So if someone is claiming that their food is organic, there is an easy way to find out – ask to see their certification.
- Not certified.
You may, however, come across someone selling his or her produce as organic but without certification. Or it may be the case that the person raises and sells his produce as more of a hobby, earning less than $5,000 a year doing it, in which case he is not required to get certification.
In situations like these, you need to question the grower about his practices to determine if the food is indeed organic.
The first thing to ask is why they are not certified, which should in itself raise a red flag. Then you should ask how the food was grown and how the grower controls weeds and pests. He may claim that he uses a “no spray” technique, but this can be misleading. No spray is generally assumed to mean that no chemical pesticides were used. But the fact is that organic farmers also spray their crops using organic products, using things like seaweed or plant-based sprays or other organic pesticides.
Other growers may misleadingly advertise no spray because they do actually spray chemical pesticides – it’s just that they do it before they plant their crops, so they don’t spray the produce directly. Again, it is important to ask questions.
Tex Mex food is full of fresh vegetables and meats. Visit a Mattito’s location nearest you soon to enjoy a healthy and delicious meal.
Image by Elina Mark – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Next Tuesday, April 12, honors one of the all-time great culinary staples – the grilled cheese sandwich. Cheese on bread has been around since the Romans ruled the world, but it didn’t take its present form until about the 1920s, when cheese and bread became relatively abundant in America. Since then, the grilled cheese sandwich has become popular around the world.
So to honor the grilled cheese sandwich, our recipe this time will be for the cheese quesadilla, courtesy of Chef Patience from Food.com.
You will need:
- One tablespoon of butter
- Two flour tortillas. You choose the size
- One cup of shredded cheddar cheese, more for larger tortillas
- Sour cream for topping
- Melt about half the butter in a skillet large enough to hold a tortilla.
- Fry one side of a tortilla, then take it from the pan. Add the remaining butter and the other tortilla. Sprinkle the cheese over the tortilla in the pan, and then put the other tortilla over the cheese, browned side up. Press the two tortillas together with a spatula or some similar implement and fry the quesadilla until the cheese is melted.
- Take it from the pan, cut into wedges, top with the sour cream and/or salsa, and enjoy!
Here’s another cheese quesadilla recipe with a few more ingredients from Taste of Home.com.
You will need:
- Four flour tortillas
- One tablespoon of butter
- Two ounces of cream cheese, softened
- One-quarter cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- One-quarter cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- Two tablespoons of thinly sliced green onion
- One tablespoon of minced fresh cilantro
- Two teaspoons of chopped ripe olives
- One-quarter cup of salsa
- Spread the butter on one side of each of the tortillas.
- Take one of the tortillas and spread cream cheese over the side that’s not buttered.
- Then sprinkle the cheeses, olives, onion, and cilantro over the cream cheese. Put the other tortilla on top with the buttered side up.
- Cook the quesadilla in a griddle on medium heat for about one to two minutes on each side or until the cheese is melted. Cut it into wedges and serve with the salsa.
Visit Mattito’s in the days before and after Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day to enjoy our quesadillas as appetizers or even as your main meal (we offer quesadillas stuffed with spinach, brisket or with beef or chicken fajita). Visit the location nearest you. And say cheese!
By Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Let’s say you rarely visit a Tex Mex restaurant (we hope you’ll soon change your mind and visit Mattito’s more often!). So you may not know a lot about Tex Mex cuisine, how it differs (or doesn’t) from Mexican food.
So to help you enjoy your next visit to a Tex Mex restaurant even more – and to impress your waiter – we’ve put together a short primer on Tex Mex cuisine. Take a look below.
Impress your server with your knowledge of Tex Mex cuisine.
- Tex Mex did – really and truly – start in Texas.
Tex Mex cuisine is a melding of Mexican Indian and Spanish foods brought up by folks who lived in Northern Mexico and then migrated into Texas. (These immigrants were known as Tejanos.) Tex Mex cuisine “started” long before Texas was a state of U.S, as far back as when the Lone Star State was part of New Spain and then Mexico.
The term Tex Mex got its own start as a reference to the Texas-Mexican railway and later became a way to identify native Texans whose family origins come from Mexico.
- Tex Mex reliance on meat in its dishes does not come from Mexico.
Foods in Mexico traditionally rely on rice and beans, with meat as the side dish or as an “accent” to the mostly grain/vegetable meal. The fact that Tex Mex tacos, burritos, chimichangas, etc. are meat-centric is due to the influence of beef on Texas residents. Beef was – and still is – beloved in Texas due to the many cattle ranches that are a part of its cultural history. Hence, it made perfect sense to add lots of beef to dishes enjoyed by Texans of Mexican descent.
- The fajita is not an original Tex Mex dish: it was created to satisfy an American palate.
Americans from all over also love their beef. The fajita and the chimichanga are totally Tex Mex in origin (while the burrito, enchilada and even taco have their “forebears” directly from Mexico). Nachos, smothered in cheese also are a Tex Mex creation.
- Tex Mex and Mexican desserts aren’t as sweet as those in the U.S.
Traditional Mexican desserts relied on fruit as a sweetening agent. Sugar cane – sugar – came to Mexico via the Spaniards but its use was still somewhat limited for centuries until Mexicans started moving to the U.S.
Desserts in Mexico still tend to use less sugar than desserts in the U.S. and Tex Mex desserts also still retain a less-sweet flavor. That is changing, of course, as the whole world goes sugar-mad. Still, you’ll no doubt notice that your dish of flan for dessert at your favorite Tex Mex restaurant is not nearly as sweet as American custards or puddings.
Visit Mattito’s the next time you want to learn more about Tex Mex dishes: our waiters are happy to tell you all you’d like to know about their ingredients and how we make them. Visit the Mattito’s location closest to you.
Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Many people love to dip tortilla chips in salsa dip. But Tex Mex aficionados love their queso, a creamy, smooth sauce made from a blend of melted cheese (Velveeta is a popular ingredient, as is cream cheese, Monterey Jack, or another type of processed cheese). The dip also is often called chili con queso because many recipes add chili pepper and even canned or fresh tomatoes to it.
Queso comes to us from Chihuahua, a northern state in Mexico as a Tex Mex version of queso flameado (“flamed cheese”/melted cheese) and queso chihuahua.
Queso is easy to make at home, so we’ve brought you a simple queso recipe, courtesy of AllRecipes.com. This recipe is for white queso (made from white American cheese, rather than from Velveeta or another yellow processed cheese).
You will need:
- One pound (cubed) of white American cheese
- One-half cup of milk (or as needed)
- One tablespoon of butter or margarine
- Two four-ounce cans of green chilies (chopped)
- Two teaspoons of cumin
- Two teaspoons of garlic powder
- Two teaspoons of onion powder
- Cayenne pepper (to taste)
- Take the cheese, butter and milk and cook in a medium saucepan over low heat.
- Stir frequently and cook until the cheese has melted.
- Then stir in the cumin, green chilies, the onion and garlic powder, and the cayenne pepper to taste).
- If the dip is too thick, add milk.
- Heat through and serve with chips or other dipping foods immediately.
It should take you about five minutes to prepare and 10 minutes to cook. (How long it takes you and your friends/family to finish it off could almost be as quick; thankfully, it will take you just another 15 minutes to make some more.)
Note: This recipe results in eight servings at 233 calories per serving.
Whether you want queso, salsa or guacamole as the dip to go along with your tortilla chips, just let your Mattito’s server know and we’ll be happy to bring one – or all! – to your table. Visit the Mattito’s location nearest you soon to indulge your need for cheese!
Image By Wackyrussell at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tex Mex cuisine is really easy to make vegetarian: simply swamp beans or rice for the meat normally used in burritos, tacos, etc.
But if you’d like to try your hand at a thoroughly vegan Tex Mex dish, we’ve found one that uses sweet potatoes as its filling courtesy of BeardandBonnet.com that should really whet your whistle.
Sweet Potato and Lime Taquitos (vegan and gluten-free)
You will need:
- One and half pounds of sweet potato (one large one should do it). Scrub and peel it and cut it into one-inch chunks.
- Two tablespoons of vegan butter substitute, salted butter or ghee
- One-quarter teaspoon of cinnamon
- One-half teaspoon of cumin
- One-half teaspoon of salt
- One-half cup of red onion (chopped)
- One-quarter cup of cilantro (chopped)
- Two limes, one cut in half and the other juiced.
- Twelve to 14 white corn tortillas
- Olive oil (for frying in a pan)
- Chopped lettuce, cherry tomatoes (halved), chopped cilantro, hot sauce, and lime wedges
- Heat a medium pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, put the potatoes into the pot and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook for 15 minutes (or until you can pierce the potatoes easily with fork). Drain, and return the potatoes to the pot and mix in the vegan butter, cumin, cinnamon, and salt.
- Take a small bowl and combine the chopped cilantro, red onion and lime juice. Then set aside and allow the mixture to marinate. Stir occasionally.
- In a heavy skillet, heat one-quarter inch of olive oil over medium heat. Take one tortilla at a time and rub the fleshy side of half of a lime over the tortilla. Then spread a heaping tablespoon of the mashed sweet potatoes and half a tablespoon of the mixture of onion, lime and cilantro evenly along the side of the tortilla.
- Roll the tortilla tightly, starting on the side with the filling. Use a toothpick to secure the taquito (so it won’t unroll while cooking).
- Note: You may want to roll four taquitos then place them in a hot pan and roll four more while the first four are cooking so that the tortillas don’t dry and split.
- Place the prepared taquitos seam-side down in the hot oil and cook (rotate with tongs) until they are golden brown and all sides are crispy. This should take between four-five minutes per batch.
- Cook the rest of the taquitos in batches (four per batch) and add more oil as needed.
- Remove the toothpicks after you’ve fried the taquitos and serve with lettuce, the halved cherry tomatoes, hot sauce, lime wedges, cilantro.
We don’t serve vegan Tex Mex cuisine here at Mattito’s. But if you’d like us to make your burrito, taco or enchilada vegetarian, just let your server know and we’ll be happy to fill it with beans, rice or both!
Photo courtesy of sdnet01/Pixabay.com
Hard to believe that Easter is less than a month away, but the Bunny and his eggs and candy will be here in just about 3.5 weeks.
Speaking of the Easter Bunny, he’s definitely an American construct (although he originated in Germany, the U.S. has taken the idea and really hopped with it). There are few, if any, sightings of the white-tailed, long-eared bearer of jelly beans and hider of eggs. He may pop up in urbane city centers, but the Easter Bunny, in general, doesn’t twitch a whisker in Mexico.
You won’t find many – if any – chocolate Easter Bunnies in Mexico during Easter.
Instead, Mexico’s citizens celebrate Easter in the very traditional sense: as the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The day itself is known as Domingo de Gloria (“Easter Sunday”), and while it’s a highly religious day, it’s also one of joy, as many Mexicans (since the country is predominately made up of Roman Catholics), head out into their towns after Easter Mass to celebrate.
In fact, Easter is so important to Mexico’s general culture that many people have several days off before and after Easter Sunday itself. (Just about the only people who work during Easter are those working within the tourism industry.)
Mexico’s citizens celebrate Christ’s last days (during Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter Sunday) with parades/processions, rituals, and many ceremonies. Many towns recreate Christ’s capture, trial and resurrection.
Some communities have different traditions, such as parading the town’s streets in front of the main procession, pledging to fulfill a manda (a religious promise) as a way to pay God back for having a prayer answered or a favor granted. Some regions of the country see celebrants visiting 12 churches in one day (one for each of the apostles). More remote regions blend these Catholic celebrations with rituals from their residents’ Indian heritage.
An interesting custom in southern Mexico is that of “burning Judas.” Done on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, celebrants burn effigies of Judas (which tend to have firecrackers inside them). The effigy often is made to look like an unpopular politician.
As for Easter foods (and there is always lots of food eaten during the holiday), because Lenten tradition dictates that Roman Catholics eat no meat in the 40 days before Easter Sunday (Lent), many Mexicans eat lots of fish, such as fish soup (includes lima beans), and raw shrimp or shrimp patties (covered in a sauce called pipian). Nopal, a flat-leafed cactus, is eaten in salads and alone, as is dried Italian squash (fried with onions and tomatoes).
Desserts often are mini hotcakes served with marmalade; fried plantains with a sweet, cream topping; and empanadas, fruit turnovers made with apples, blackberries, cherries, apricots, or strawberries.
Mattito’s is open Easter Sunday. It’s a popular day to eat with us, so we recommend that if your party is large (6 or more people), that you contact the location nearest you for reservations. We look forward to seeing you later this month!
Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When it comes to cooking Tex Mex dishes, it’s fairly hard to make a mistake. Still, errors do happen and so we’ve put together a short list of mistakes home cooks make when they decide to serve their family and friends Tex Mex dishes.
You don’t have to be a professional chef to make great Tex Mex food, but you don’t want to make mistakes, either!
- First, you should know the difference between real Tex Mex dishes and Mexican American dishes.
Fish tacos? Not Tex Mex. Ditto for chimichangas and steak burritos. These are dishes that come to us from areas not in Texas: San Diego for the fish tacos, Tucson for the chimichangas and San Francisco for the steak burritos.
Tex Mex food as we know it came to the U.S. via Mexicans who moved to and settled in Texas (Tejanos), bringing their cuisine with them and then changing it over time.
- Not letting meat “rest” before serving.
Many Tex Mex dishes use beef or pork in various forms (think ground beef for tacos, shredded beef or pork for tacos, skirt steak for fajitas, and so on). Don’t cook the meat and then immediately place it into the dish. Instead, let it “sit” for a bit, allowing its juices to distribute the juice throughout the meat.
- Overcrowding a cooking utensil with vegetables or meat.
The more you fill up a pan with meat or vegetables (think red, green and yellow peppers sautéed for a fajita, etc.) the less evenly they will cook. If you have a lot of vegetables or pieces of meat, consider using two pans.
- Failing to preheat a pan.
Your cooking surface needs to be hot so that it will brown food and seal in juices. Make sure the pan is hot (and hot before you add any oil), before cooking. To see if the pan is hot, splash a few sprinkles of water in it. The water droplets should evaporate quickly. Then add any oil. Add the meat or fish when the oil starts to ripple a bit.
However, if you use a non-stick pan, place the oil in it before you turn on the heat, because non-stick pans can release toxins if they’re heated up when empty.
- Using dried herbs when the recipe calls for fresh.
One would think that a pinch of a dried herb would work, but dried herbs can actually pack too much flavor. If a recipe calls for fresh herbs, make sure you use fresh.
- Using a too-low heat to sear your meat.
When you want a sizzling fajita, you need to cook it in a hot skillet. Searing meat needs a burst of heat so that the meat’s proteins can cook quickly. Keeping the burner on low or medium means the steak’s inside will be done at the same time as its outside, resulting in little browning.
Instead, turn the hit up to high and let the pan/skillet sizzle for a couple of minutes before placing the meat in it. In addition, a cast-iron skillet is best because it retains heat.
When you have a hankering for mistake-free, great Tex Mex food, make sure you stop by a Mattito’s restaurant soon!
Image courtesy of africa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Many “origin” stories circulate regarding how the margarita was invented and who did the inventing. Bottom line, the drink arguably is the most popular Tex Mex drink.
That said, we’ve decided to offer your three terrific recipes for different margaritas. We hope you – and your guests – enjoy them!
We’ll start with a traditional margarita recipe, courtesy of SeriousEats.com.
You will need:
- Cocktail shaker and strainer
- A wedge of lime as well as two lime wheels (for garnish)
- One tablespoon of coarse salt (for the glass rims)
- Four ounces of high quality white tequila
- Two ounces of Cointreau
- 5 ounces of fresh juice from two limes
- Run the lime wedge around the rims of two rocks glasses and then dip the rips in the salt. Set the glasses to the side.
- Take the cocktail shaker and combine the tequila, lime juice and Contreau. Fill the shaker with ice and then shake until the ingredients are chilled thoroughly (you’ll know things are chilled when the bottom of the metal shaker frosts over).
- Fill the glasses with fresh ice and strain the margarita into both glasses. You may then garnish the glasses with the lime wheels.
Next, we thought we’d spice up the margarita a bit and therefore offer you this cucumber jalapeno margarita, courtesy of Michael Symon at CookingChannelTV.com. (By the way, this recipe takes a lot longer than your typical margarita recipe — 70 minutes – because it needs to be chilled for at least an hour.)
You will need:
- One-half cup of fresh lime juice
- One-half cup of white tequila
- One-quarter cup of orange liqueur (Symon recommends Grand Marnier)
- One-quarter cup of simple syrup (or more, if needed)
- Four slices of cucumber (thin)
- One jalapeno (halve it lengthwise)
- Ice, for serving
- Optional: salt for your glass rims
Mix the tequila, lime juice, orange liquer, syrup, jalapenos and cucumbers in a large pitcher and then chill for at least one hour. (The longer it chills, the more the flavors of the jalapeno and cucumbers will permeate into the drink.)
For our third recipe, try this Jamaica margarita, courtesy of MyRecipes.com
You will need:
- One cup (about two ounces) of dried hibiscus blossoms
- Three cups of water
- Three-quarter cup of sugar
- 25 cups of tequila
- One-half cup of fresh lime juice
- One-third cup of Triple Sec or another orange-flavored liqueur
- Eight slices of lime
- A strainer
- Place the hibiscus blossoms in a strainers and then rinse under cold water.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the blossoms with the water and sugar and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and then simmer for 10 minutes.
- Strain and discard the blossoms.
- Cover and chill the mixture and then combine it with tequila, Triple Sec and the juice.
- Serve over ice and garnish with the lime slices.
When you want an icy –cold and delicious margarita, visit the Mattito’s location nearest you. We look forward to serving you!