5 Ingredients That Make All the Difference in Mexican Food.

by Anthony Christie

I’m no cook. If you’ve ever seen my cooking show you know what I’m talking about. Here at El Farol Mexican Restaurant I perform a “fetch things for people, and whatever you do, don’t cook” role. But over the years I’ve been able to see the real cooks in action and I know that in order to make our food stand out, they use a few tantalizing,and sometimes surprising, ingredients. If you find your own recipes lack a little oomph, try using one of these additions to make it a homemade favorite!

#5. Cilantro
There’s nothing quite like the fresh scent of cilantro in the kitchen. Every time it manages to waft into my nostrils I need to take a moment and let myself enjoy it. I know that cilantro has its die-hard hard fans and even die-harder enemies. I’m obviously pro-cilantro if I’m including it in this list. For all those that frown at the thought of seeing mounds of that leafy green completely hiding the enchilada they just ordered I say,”Chillax!” You don’t need to eat it by the handful to get the flavorful benefits, just a little bit of chopped cilantro is enough to change a dull meal.

At the restaurant, we like to put a pinch of cilantro (seriously, just a pinch. Don’t worry, everything will be okay.) in a variety of items. A little bit helps add flavor to chicken or shredded beef. A little bit more means pico de gallo and bean dip, two kinds of our fresh salsa, make customers lick their lips. If you don’t have cilantro in your list of ingredients, you might want to reconsider.

#4. Garlic

Afraid of vampires? Hide in our kitchen, or any kitchen that you know is constantly making tasty, no, that’s not the word, savory food. The reason behind that undead protection is garlic. I asked Roberto, the owner, which recipes here include garlic. The answer: basically everything has at least a little bit in it, even the rice! You wouldn’t know when you’re eating it, I never did, but if it got left out we’d have a bunch of unhappy customers who aren’t quite sure why. When most people think of garlic their minds naturally go to italian cuisine and bad breath. Again, this is another ingredient where a little goes a long way. No need to overdo it. The only downside is for those who prefer the modern vampire, sparkles and all. They’ll just have to eat crummy food for the sake of love.

#3. Peanut Butter

Reader: “Do, um, do you guys make peanut butter sandwiches”

First, you get a gold star for being brave enough to ask. Second, the answer is no. However, here at El Farol, peanut butter is an essential ingredient to the enchilada sauce. If I could add to the list of unbreakable, universal laws it would be that peanut butter is essential to ALL enchilada sauces. Unfortunately, people break this rule all the time and things go from bad to worse in a jiffy–pun intended ;) Our sauce is more like a mole. It’s reddish-brown, and just a little thicker with a tiny bit of spice. I had my wedding dinner at the restaurant (cue the shameless plug for group reservations and catering) and there was one item that would’ve turned me into a groomzilla had it been missing: enchiladas.

#2. Chocolate

By now you might think that this list has gone terribly astray. Wrong. In fact it’s heading in the perfect direction because we get to talk about enchilada sauce AGAIN! Yup, just as the perfect partner to peanut butter in the candy dish is chocolate, the same holds true for using it in enchilada sauce. If you’ve sworn off either of these sweets then you can cheat with a cheese enchilada…okay, maybe not. The way these two ingredients blend creates something altogether different from what you would expect. It’s a unique taste that you just need to try if you haven’t already.

#1. Chile Peppers and Powders

If you head to the Hispanic Food section of the grocery store you’ll find a few options when it comes to spices. They’re bound to have red peppers, green peppers, maybe even yellow ones. And you can even buy a little pouch with “Taco Seasoning” or “Fajita Mix”.
Now go to an actual Latin Market and check out their selection. Much larger. They have more different kinds of chile peppers and powders than reality shows you’ve never heard of–roughly 1 billion. Each kind has a different flavor and can change the entire profile of a recipe. It can take a lot of time and practice to get things perfect–good thing we have over 45 years of both. Or a little bit of an adventurous spirit can discover something new and unique. It’s your choice and there are so many options. Our favorites are Chile California, Chile New Mexico, and Pasilla.

That’s my list of essential ingredients. What’s yours?

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