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10 Essential Tools for Mexican Cooking

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As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities -- but we also have to rely on our tools. Which is why we're asking the experts about the essential tools we need to make our favorite foods attainable in our own kitchens.

Today: Margarita Arronte's book Mexico: The Cookbook will challenge your preconceptions about Mexican food. Here, she shares 10 tools and ingredients for making authentic Mexican dishes at home.

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One of the most common misconceptions about Mexican cuisine is that it is cheap, greasy, and unhealthy. On the contrary, our food is healthy, nutritious, and sophisticated, and it can be both delicate and dramatic.

In my kitchen, the tools that I most treasure are my huge stove with 6 burners, my blender, my food processor, and my Thermomix, as well as all of the kitchenware that belonged to my aunts in Michoacán, my mother, and my beloved grandmother, all of which I still use everyday.

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In the U.S., there are many stores and websites where you can buy Mexican ingredients and Mexican kitchen tools. For the best result, always try to go for the high-quality stuff.

1. Molcajete (traditional stone mortar and pestle)
This is an indispensable and traditional tool in Mexican kitchens. When you grind with stone, you get the essential oils from squeezing the seeds at the same time that you pulverize them. It used to be that when a young lady got married, it was very important that she recieve a molcajete as a gift from her mother, grandmother, or another important woman in the family. Use a molcajete to make salsas and guacamole.

More: Make your own salsa, no recipe required. 

  

2. Chiles
These essential ingredients are not only for heat -- they also add flavor and color to many Mexican dishes. Because the same type of chile does not have the same level of heat every time, you should use caution when cooking with them. You can reduce the heat by seeding and deveining the chiles or by soaking them in water with salt, sugar, and coffee.

  

3. Blender or food processor
Traditionally, Mexican dishes like moles, pipianes (sauces or dips that are based on seeds or a seed mixture), and adobos are ground on a metate (stone). In most modern Mexican homes, the sauces are ground in a blender or food processor; I couldn't make my moles without one.

  

4. Clay or cast iron comal (flat griddle)
You need this to make tortillas, quesadillas, and sopes, as well as to heat the tortillas for everyday eating. Mextlapiques, cecina, chicken breast, and even some tamales are cooked on a comal. It is also used to dry-roast the basic ingredients -- onion, garlic, and tomatoes, for example -- that are used for salsas.

More: Use tortillas to scoop up Diana Kennedy's Scrambled Ricotta.

5. Steamer 
This is especially useful for cooking tamales, mixiotes (pit-barbecued meat), home-cooked barbacoa, and some mextlapiques.

  

6. Heavy casserole with a lid or clay pots
These are great for cooking moles, adobos, and pipianes. For recipes that require long cooking times, these types of pots are useful because they retain an even heat.

7. The basics: sharp knives, scissors, strainer, scale, measuring cups, and spoons
These tools are important not only for Mexican cooking, but in any kitchen whatsoever. Sharp knives are imperative and scissors are of great help when cleaning dry chiles. The strainer is key when rinsing beans and peeling tomatoes and chiles, and measuring cups and spoons are obviously essential for standardizing recipes.

9. Aromatic Mexican herbs
These are ingredients you must have on hand; you cannot cook authentic Mexican food without the aroma of traditional herbs like epazote, hoja santa, and avocado leaves. They are a “must” in my kitchen, and I use them in even the most basic foods, like beans.

10. Corn tortillas
Along with beans, pumpkin, chiles and wild greens, corn is the base of the Mexican diet. Traditional Mexican cuisine must be enjoyed with tortillas for wrapping the food; they can even replace plates and silverware.  

  

11. Dried beans 
From a simple pot of beans to elegant soups to dishes like tamales or enfrijoladas, beans make up the base of many traditional Mexican dishes. 

What authentic Mexican foods do you enjoy cooking? Share with us in the comments below!