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September 2022

8 Staple Ingredients That Shine in Hispanic Cooking

Stock your own kitchen!
September 2022

Like any type of cuisine, delicious Hispanic-inspired cooking starts with a well-stocked kitchen. What goes into that well-stocked kitchen? We’ve highlighted eight of our favorite kitchen standby ingredients that are all major building blocks for a wide range of dishes full of Hispanic flavors. Let’s take a look.


What they are: Cousins to the banana, plantains are always ready to use, regardless of ripeness—though they should not be eaten raw. Green plantains have a texture and flavor akin to starchy vegetables, like potatoes or yucca. They’re used in savory recipes and can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as baked, boiled, fried, grilled, or steamed. Yellow or black plantains are softer and most often roasted to bring out their natural sweetness. 
Where they come from: Plantains are native to the Caribbean and northern Africa, and are cultivated throughout Central America. 
How to use them: We love the versatile Dominican dish known as mangú, aka mashed plantains, as a blank canvass for dressing plantains up with all sorts of additional ingredients. We’ve kept it simple with an accompaniment of sautéed onions. Try it as an unexpected, tropical-inspired swap for mashed potatoes.

Dominican-Style Mashed Plantains


What it is: Sold dried and ready to use in cans, hominy refers to kernels of white or yellow corn with the hull and germ removed. 
Where it comes from: Originally from Mexico, hominy is produced in a number of Central American countries, including Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
How to use it: Hominy can be eaten like corn and used in a variety of corn-based dishes, like soups, salads, and relish. It’s also commonly ground into masa, which is then used to make tortillas. Hominy is also a must-have for pozole, a flavorful stew from Mexico traditionally made with pork and garnished with vegetables, like lettuce, radishes, and avocado. Our easy weeknight version comes together in 30 minutes using just five ingredients.

Fast Red Pork Pozole 


What it is: A delicious purée of sautéed peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, herbs, and spices, sofrito serves as the flavor base for a variety of Latin stews, soups, and braises. Look for it in jars in the soup aisle or in the freezer section. 
Where it comes from: Originally brought over by Spanish colonists, sofrito is now a signature ingredient used abundantly in countries throughout Central America. 
How to use it: In addition to soups and stews, a spoonful of sofrito can also add savory depth stirred into to sauces and dips. Jarred sofrito is the key to this lightning fast, Cuban-style black bean dip that packs big, bold flavor—using just five ingredients.

Cuban-style Black Bean Dip with Plantain Chips

Enchilada Sauce

What it is: Don’t be fooled by the name. Enchilada sauce is typically sold in cans and can be used for way more than just enchiladas. There are two key types: Red enchilada sauce includes a blend of red chilies with garlic, onion, spices, and sometimes tomatoes; green enchilada sauce uses similar ingredients, but gets its signature color from tomatillos. 
Where it comes from: Mexico
How to use it: You can use enchilada sauce to boost the flavor of tacos and burritos (mix it in the filling or serve it on the side like salsa), add a finishing touch for Tex-Mex casseroles, or on top of meaty nachos. Of course, this shelf-stable pantry item is best-known for one can’t-fail crowd-pleaser—enchiladas. Shredded rotisserie chicken fast-tracks these five-ingredient red enchiladas garnished with green onion and melty cheese.

Red Chicken Enchiladas

Chipotles in Adobo

What it is: Full of flavor, chipotles in adobo features jalapeños that have been dried and smoked, then packed in adobo sauce, a rich blend of chilis, vinegar, and spices. 
Where it comes from: Mexico 
How to use it: Open a can to add flavor depth and fiery spice to stews, braises, dips, and more. Both the chipotles and the spicy adobo sauce can be used as ingredients—just remember, a little goes a long way. Smoky chipotles in adobo become the flavor foundation for this easy version of internet-trendy birria. Oh, and the slow-cooked pork filling will leave you with more than enough leftovers for tasty grain bowls later in the week.  

Slow Cooker Birria Tacos

Frozen Empanada Discs

What they are: The ultimate shortcut for DIY empanadas, these are frozen, individually portioned discs of dough that can be stuffed with fillings of the savory or sweet variety.
Where it comes from: Originally from Spain, empanadas, in general, are now enjoyed throughout Central America and beyond.
How to use it: Thaw, fill, and fold empanada discs for a handheld, homemade baked treat in minutes. For a quick take on a classic sweet empanada, start with another Hispanic pantry staple—sweet guava paste. Add mild queso fresco and you’ve got a fun dessert that tastes like a tropical twist on fruity cheese Danishes. 

Guava Empanadas

What it is: Sazón is a complex, savory seasoning, traditionally made with a blend of coriander, cumin, achiote, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper. Ready-to-use packets of premixed sazón can be found on grocery store shelves along with other Hispanic ingredients. 
Where it comes from: While it’s popular throughout Dominican and Mexican cooking, this seasoning traditionally comes from Puerto Rico.
How to use it: Sazón is a go-to for Hispanic-inspired spice rubs on pork, chicken, and fish, and also adds savory flavor to beans, rice, and stews. The bold punch of sazón combined with sofrito creates the taste foundation and distinctive orange color of this rice dish, a classic Puerto Rican comfort food.

Puerto Rican Rice with Pigeon Peas (Arroz con Gandules)

What it is: Tajín is a savory-sour spice blend that combines the acidity of lime and with the mild heat of red chilies and salt. It’s a spice blend and it’s also the name of the company that makes it.
Where it comes from: The company is based in Mexico and the spice blend was brought to the United States in 1993. 
How to use it: Tajín adds a bright zing that cuts through the richness of cooked meats and also complements the mild taste of chicken and fish. Try Tajín sprinkled over popcorn, or use it in place of salt on the rim of margarita glasses. Tajín paired with crunchy vegetables, like cucumber and jicama, and fruit is a popular snack throughout Latin America. We love the kick it adds to wedges of juicy watermelon with mild cotija cheese and fresh mint. 

Chili-Lime Watermelon Wedges

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