Keep your pantry stocked with these key foods for making memorable Mexican meals.

Shop the Mexican Market To Spice Up Your Pantry

From Tex-Mex to Latin-America, Mexican food has a wide range of cultures infused in every bite. Just as vast as the flavors are the options in Mexican and Hispanic markets. From dry staples like corn, rice and beans to herbs and sweet items, it's easy to shop and keep your pantry shelves stocked to spice up your meals.

On your first visit to a Mexican market, start simply with spice options and dried options. With a base of herbs and spices plus rice, beans and tortillas; you can simply add a protein to create a new meal. Branch out with sweet options like tamarind, Mexican sodas or spice things up with chilis. Don't be afraid to try new brands, spices or shelf-stable proteins. Make these Mexican staples part of your pantry.

Masa and Corn

Corn and Masa are both a staple in Mexican cooking. Masa dough is a great base for everything from empanadas to soup. Ask for tortilla masa made from ground corn or masa preparanda and keep it on hand to turn into tortillas, Masa Fácil Para Empanadas (Easy Empanada Dough) or use in Masa Soup.

Whether you use your Mexican market corn in a Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder or Smoky Poblano Corn Pudding,keeping masa and corn on hand creates a great corn-y base. Getting more adventurous with Mexican corn options takes you to packaged huitlachoche (a fungus harvested off of corn) and Corn Truffle (Huitlacoche) Quesadillas.

Masa | Photo by Meredith

Fresh Tortillas

An imporant pantry staple to keep are hand are tortillas. Mexican markets offer up a wide variety of brands, corn and flour options and chrunchy choices. As you shop, look for locally or regionally-made tortillas The tortilla is a very versatile ingredient that can be used in familiar applications like tacos, burritos and enchiladas but also in sweet desserts, fried, turned into chips or just simply as a bread alternative to sop up yummy sauces.

While at the market, consider also picking up white or maize (corn) flour to create your own tortillas. Requiring basically a flour and water, keeping the flour on hand means you can always be ready to make your own tortillas.

Chef John's Corn Tortillas in a bowl lined with a red striped cloth
Chef John's Corn Tortilla | Photo by Chef John
| Credit: Chef John

Mexican Spices: Cumin, Chipotle and Cilantro

Adding spice to entrees can be as easy as exploring the dried herb and spice aisle of your Mexican market. From hierbas de olor (aromatic herbs) to Mexican bay leaves and oregano, there are a wide range of herb and spice options. Ask in the market for assistance; unfamiliar spices can become your new friends in the kitchen with a little bit of guidance.

Familiar dry spice options include cumin, chipotle and cilantro but a Mexican market has a wide array of adventurous choices. Try adding a good base of options to make everything from Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix with less sodium than packaged seasoning to savory Pork Carnitas. While cilantro may be an acquired taste, the dried version is a great pantry staple to keep on hand and create sides like Lime Cilantro Rice.

650 x 465 2233081-Taco-Seasoning-I-Photo-by-stingrae1625
Taco Seasoning I | Photo by stingrae1625

Dried Chorizo

Once you have the basic ingredients, adding chicken, ground beef or fresh chorizo is an easy step. As you look to fill up your pantry with shelf-stable ingredients, dried chorizo is a great alternative. Flavored with smoked paprika, salt and garlic, you can choose either sweet or spicy versions. A little bit of dried chorizo goes a long way in recipes and adds intense spice to everything from rice dishes to egg dishes like Chorizo con Huevos (Spicy Mexican Sausage with Eggs).

For easy appetizers, dried chorizo can be added to cheese plates with bread, mustard or other small plate options. Add it to rice dishes like this Easy Paella or a Creamy Chicken and Chorizo Soup.

Easy Chorizo Street Tacos
Easy Chorizo Street Tacos | Photo by Yoly
| Credit: Yoly

Rice and Beans

Every culture has a version of rice and beans in their repetoire. Keeping dry rice and beans on hand can be the base of sides, entrees and even desserts like Arroz Con Leche (Mexican Rice Pudding).

There are many options to create easy Mexican Rice sides to add to meals or serve on their own. Picking up a bag of dried rice for your pantry gives you a great start. Dried beans are just as versatile. While they can be added to tacos and enchiladas to bulk up proteins, they are also a great refried compliment to rice dishes or sauce starter.

An easy Instant Pot Charro or Chef John's Refried Beans dried beans combined with your new spice options for a warm side, at your own spice comfort level.

Chef John's Refried Beans
Chef John's Refried Beans | Photo by Chef John
| Credit: Chef John

Chile Peppers and Powders

Adjust the heat level of your Mexican meals with dried chilis or chili powder straight out of your pantry. Choosing chile peppers can feel complicated with choices like ancho, árbol chilies guiajillos, adobo, cannned chipotles en adobe and dried poblanos. Things to consider as you shop: the Scoville Scale (how hot they are), if they are soft and pliable and if they have a stem or seeds. The spice level can change if the seeds and stems are removed.

How can you use chiles in recipes? Simple ways to start include using dried chili peppers in salsassaucessoups and chiles or stuff them. Just rehydrate with water and you've got a spice-y start. The description for Chef John's Roast Adobo Pork Loin. includes a range of spicy Mexican market pantry staples that boost a simple protein:

"Give your family's everyday pork loin recipe a major flavor boost with a simple homemade Adobo rub. Just mix GOYA® Adobo All-Purpose Seasoning with Pepper with chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Rub over the pork, roast until golden brown, and prepare for the compliments to roll in!"

Another option that uses dried chiles to spice things up is an easy set-it and forget-it Slow Cooker Chicken Tinga.

Chiles en Nogada (Mexican Stuffed Poblano Peppers in Walnut Sauce)
Chiles en Nogada (Mexican Stuffed Poblano Peppers in Walnut Sauce) | Photo by Crema

Pepitas and Mexican Chocolate

Cool down the heat in your pantry with something sweet. Mexican markets are full of sweet staples that can also apply in savory recipes. One of the most familiar sweet options are Mexican cinnamon and Mexican chocolate. Both have unique flavors that earn them their space on a Mexican market shelf. Guava jelly can be used as a base for sauces and baking or just eaten on bread.

Mexican chocolate not only has more sugar than a tradition chocolate, it also features a hint of cinnamon and round shape. While making Mexican hot chocolate is a great first application, it is also used alongside Mexican cinnamon in savory mole sauces. Sprinkle the cinnamon on churros for a sweet topper. Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are another great pantry addition that can be used in desserts, as a savory or sweet chrunch element or in baking. Or you can simply snack on them as you make new Mexican market-inspired recipes!

Mole Sauce
Mole Sauce | Photo by Meredith

Check out our complete collection of Mexican Recipes.