21 Best Cooking Tips I Learned From My Abuela
Everyone knows food tastes better in Grandma’s kitchen. But few people know why. The truth is that after decades of turning out casero meals for the family, Grandma has mastered some trick and tips that give that food a sabor that you just won’t find anywhere else. So, we checked in with some of the top abuela’s out there, to compile this list of must-do techniques to add that special something to your home-cooked meals. Enjoy!
1. Always use fresh cilantro.
For real Latin food fried dried cilantro or cilantro powder just won’t cut it. Leave that for the gringos. When you want to get a full fresh flavor burst, buy your cilantro that day from the produce department and use it at the end of the cooking session as a garnish for the best blast to the taste buds.
2. Garnish Freely.
This goes not just for cilantro but for everything else that you are using to add flavor to the dish. Onions, chiles, even limes are not just for looks and a touch of flavor but are integral parts of the dish and should be used much more liberally in Latin food than in food for the North American palate.
3. Marinate your meats.
Why do tacos taste so damn good? Its just meat and tortillas right? The secret to the bombness of tacos is in the marinade of the meats, which not just tenderize them but add flavor and goodness all around. Marinate overnight for best effect.
4. Slow cook your cuts.
Abuelas all over Latin America are used to cooking with fattier, less expensive, cuts and still making them come out juicy and delicious. The trick here is to slow cook the meat instead of trying to grill it up fast. This allows the fat to melt and the meat to cook more gently.
5. Char your veggies.
What’s the difference between that supermarket salsa and your abuela’s homemade salsa? Sabor? Of course, but what’s the secret? The easy answer is that by home charring the chiles, onions, tomatoes and other veggies to bring out a special roasted flavor that those store bought vinegar tasting salsas simply don’t have.
6. Get into recycling.
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See those leftover chips and salsa from the party last night? That’s the perfect base for today’s chilaquiles! Grandmas have mastered this art of recycling food and use it to create super sabroso dishes on the fly out of yesterdays meals.
7. Pork Lard.
Yup, we said it. And don’t go asking your diet crazed friends about it or be ready for blank stares. Nothing adds flavor to everything from beans to soups like good old pork lard, there is just no way around it. Don’t believe me? Ask your abuela.
8. Ditch the canned beans.
For real though. If there is one thing that will make any abuela cringe its that stale taste of canned beans. Learn how to whip them up on your own. And don’t forget the pork lard.
9. Get to know your chiles.
Adding spice to a dish take more than just shaking in some cayenne pepper. There are dozens of different chiles with not just different heat profiles but unique flavors that you need to get to know before you can cook like a real grandma. Start studying now.
10. Learn to finely chop.
Patience is a virtue young Jedi, and abuelas have it by the yard. The finer you chop up your ingredients the more uniformly they will cook. Big chunks are often cooked on the outside but semi-raw on the inside. This subtle thing can make a big difference.
11. Use room temperature eggs.
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Your grandma is not just being anti-technology by keeping her eggs out of the refrigerator. Room temperature eggs whip up and blend better than cold eggs and can make or break many dishes. You will see the difference right away and gain instant grandma G status among your friends and family.
12. Do refrigerate your onions.
Ever wonder how your abuela can sit and chop onions nonstop without crying? Well it’s not just her superpowers. She also knows that by refrigerating them first she is cutting down on the amount of juice they will squirt when she chops them up. Take note.
13. Use panela for sweetener.
Also known as piloncillo or chancaca depending on the country, panela is pure unrefined sugar. It gives food much more flavor than white or even brown sugar and should be used every time you want to add sweetness to a dish.
14. You can also use agave.
Ok, many people are worried about their sugar intake and blood glucose levels these days, even grandmas. So use agave syrup, which comes from a Mexican cactus, to sweeten up those dishes without spikes in your blood sugar.
15. Fresh squeezed limes.
You ever wonder why your abuela has a mountain of limes stacked up in her kitchen? Well its because they go in just about everything. Freshly squeezed lime juice does everything from tenderizing meat to preserving the guacamole. Use them.
16. Try using a mortar and pestle.
Wanna know grandma’s secret for making those moles and sauces of just the right consistency? Well the truth is that nothing grinds down seeds, nuts and spices like the good old mortar and pestle, try for yourself and see!
17. Master the dry roast.
By pre-cooking ingredients like garlic and spices in a pan with no oil, you can really bring out their flavor profile before adding them to sauces, soups or other dishes. This is also a healthy way to cook many foods that we traditionally think need to be fried in oil.
18. Use real chocolate.
Whether you are making hot chocolate for a traditional Colombian breakfast or a dark mole sauce for a Mexican dinner, please, please, please use real chocolate and make your abuela proud! Cocoa powders mixed with dried milk and other thickening products will just weigh down the final product and do absolutely nothing in terms of adding flavor. When it comes to chocolate, ain’t nothing like the real thing baby!
19. Use corn tortillas.
While flour tortillas have become immensely popular in the USA and around the world, most of Latin America still uses corn tortillas for just about anything. Not only are corn tortillas more healthy and tastier but they can even be made more easily right in the comfort of your home. Now that is something that will impress your grandma!
20. While you are at it, add corn to everything.
Since we are on the subject, why not start adding corn to more of your dishes. That’s exactly what abuelas all over Latin America do! From corn kernels in your soups to crunchy corn in your salsas, corn adds a touch of hearty goodness and traditional flavor that brings out the best in almost every dish you can imagine.
21. Get to know the tomatillo.
While red tomatoes dominate the cuisine of much of North America, those tangy little green tomatillos are just as important south of the border. Mixed with jalapenos, lime, onion and even avocado, tomatillos make one incredibly delicious salsa that will soon have that red standby salsa sliding over to second place.