Tex-Mex Cooking – Glossary of Dishes From the Oldest Regional Cuisine Style in the Country
This is a glossary of terms and definitions for Tex-Mex cooking dishes. Most of these dishes can be found at Texas-Mexican restaurants and from Texas cooks. Others are fairly recent additions to this style of food, and came from other places around the country and world.
Fajitas- The word literally means “little belts”. It is actually a grilled skirt steak, but over the years the Tex-Mex version has come to be referred as any kind of meat that is grilled and served on tortillas, with fixings like onions, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and other condiments.
Nachos- Nachos are corn tortilla chips topped with cheese and jalapeno slices, which are then broiled until the cheese melts. Sometimes sour cream, guacamole, and other ingredients are added.
Panchos- Basically, these are nachos with refried beans spread on the tortilla chips before anything else is added on top. This Tex-Mex dish has its roots in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.
Tacos- In Mexican cooking, these are just a filling wrapped up in a tortilla. Generally in Tex-Mex cooking, tacos come in two styles. One is corn tortillas fried into a U-shaped shell, where they are filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables. The other is just flour tortillas filled with similar ingredients to hard tacos.
Quesadillas- These are flour tortillas that are folded over cheese and other fillings, then lightly grilled or fried until the cheese melts.
Burritos- Often categorized as a Tex-Mex dish, burritos have long been popular in Arizona and California. and were no burritos found in Texas until recently. Burritos are made by wrapping a large flour tortilla around a filling.
Tostadas- Meaning “toasted” in English, this Tex-mex dish consists of whole corn tortillas, fried flat, and topped with similar ingredients to tacos.
Chalupas- Real Mexican chalupas are made by pressing tortilla dough into long boat-like shapes before cooking. Tex-Mex chalupas (interchangeable with tostadas) are usually made by frying a corn tortilla into a flat shape, then frying it like a taco. It is typically topped with meatless toppings like beans, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.
Tamales- Mexican tamales are made with masa, or tortilla dough, while the Tex-Mex version can be made Mexican style, or Southern-style, where a cornmeal paste or mush is used. This is then topped with a filling, rolled up in corn husks or banana leafs, and steamed.
Chilaquiles- Chilaquiles are tortilla pieces cooked in a sauce, usually with meat and cheese. They are similar to migas (below).
Enchiladas Tortillas enchiladas are corn tortillas that are softened in hot oil, then dipped in a chile sauce. Enchiladas were originally served with no fillings, and were topped with some white cheese (queso blanco). Tex-Mex enchiladas are usually rolled with a filling of either meat or cheese, or both, then topped with more sauce and cheese.
Stacked enchiladas- Common in El Paso and West Texas kitchens, these are chilled tortillas served just like a stack of pancakes, with cheese and onion in between the tortillas, and then topped with more sauce and cheese.
Gorditas- These are made with tortilla dough (masa), which is patted down into a circle and dropped into hot oil, where it puffs up. It then is split open into a pocket, where fillings of beans, shredded meats, or cheese are placed inside.
Enchuritos- The name of this modern Tex-Mex cooking invention suggests a half burrito and half enchilada dish, but usually it is a burrito topped with enchilada sauce and cheese.
Refried Beans- These are cooked beans mashed in hot oil. They are the most common of all the prepared Tex-Mex foods. The bean used is almost always the pinto, but refried black beans are beginning to show up on many menus.
Migas- In Tex-Mex cooking, migas are a popular breakfast dish, usually made with scrambled eggs and crushed corn tortilla chips. Other ingredients often added are onions, cheese, and serrano peppers.
Chimichangas- The name means whatchamacallits. Chimichangas are similar to a burrito that has been fried. Rumor has it the that first chimichanga came about by someone dropping a burrito into a deep-fryer by accident.
Envueltos- These are tortillas wrapped around a filling and then fried or cooked in a sauce.
Botanas- Throughout Mexico and a large part of Texas, botanas means appetizers. A botana plate is a sampler plate. But in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas (the southernmost part of Texas), a botanas platter is a large plate of nachos and tostadas, topped with guacamole, and fajita meat. It is served with tortillas and salsa on the side.
Picante Sauce- In Tex-Mex cooking, this is the a sauce made of finely chopped tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers. This is what you see served in dipping bowls for chips in Tex-Mex restaurants. You can also pour as much of this as you want on any of the above dishes.
There are undoubtedly many more Tex-Mex cooking dishes, and similar versions of these keep popping up all the time. But what is known is that Tex-Mex is a unique regional cuisine all its own, and Tex-Mex cooking is here to stay and to grow in popularity for many years to come.
Billy Bristol is the writer and editor for Food in Texas, a website devoted to the celebration of tradition homemade Texas Food. With simple recipes and cooking ideas that bring out the best in classic Texas cuisine, Food in Texas is creating its own culinary legacy.