5 Tips for Quick and Easy Mexican Dinners

By: Sara Elliott

Who's hungry for some Mexican food tonight?
Who's hungry for some Mexican food tonight?

Mexican food gets a bad rap as a fat laden menu option. Fiesta night at your house doesn't have to be prep intensive and heavy on the calories. Mexican cooking is more about fresh ingredients and bold flavors than about piling on rich, heavy sauces or dunking ingredients in grease. Many Mexican style recipes go together quickly and often use a lot of grains and legumes, which is good news if you're nutrition conscious and working within a tight budget. Combining complimentary vegetable proteins provides all the essential amino acids found in meat -- and at bargain prices. Beans and rice is one example, but there are many others. Let's take a look at five ways you can make a Mexican feast without exhausting yourself. While your family is doing a happy dance, you can cha-cha over to your comfy chair and relax. Now, wouldn't that be nice?


5: Let a Slow Cooker Do the Work

Many Mexican dishes use ingredients cooked low and slow to tenderize tough cuts of meat. This cooking style is perfect for the modern slow cooker. You can start the chicken for a classic arroz con pollo dish in the morning, and it will be falling-off-the bone juicy and tender when you get home from work. We think our slow cooker cumin chicken and chili offerings are excellent examples of how a slow cooker can simplify mealtime at your house.

  • South-of-the-Border Cumin Chicken
  • Turkey Vegetable Chili Mac
  • Chunky Chili
  • Beef Chuck Chili


4: Make it a Casserole

Layer upon layer of yummy goodness!
Layer upon layer of yummy goodness!

Your kids may love tacos, but they can get messy. And tacos don't always work well as leftovers, either. You can get the rich, corn imbued flavor of tacos in a casserole that's as appealing to grownups as it is to kids. Mexican casseroles have the rich flavor you've come to expect from Mexican fare, but without the fuss. Casserole style dishes may work as slow cooker meals, skillet dinners or require oven heating. They bring modern cooking methods to many of the ingredient pairings that make Mexican food so delicious. We've included a few standout options below:

  • Layered Mexican-Style Casserole
  • Beef Enchiladas
  • Mexican Chicken Casserole
  • Beef Mole Tamale Pie
  • Mexican Lasagna


3: Expand Your Spice Drawer

Mexican cuisine relies on a few unique spices and ingredients to provide dynamic flavor. Adding those spices to your recipes will make even bland ingredients taste exotic. Try a simple experiment: Make a batch of white rice substituting tomato juice for half the water requirement. Once the rice has steamed, add a tablespoon of fresh, minced cilantro and a quarter of a teaspoon of cumin. Those three ingredients will completely transform the flavor of your basic rice dish. Now imagine what a little sautéed onion, minced garlic and red pepper will do. Recipes are like that. You can add Mexican flare to some of your fast prep favorites by just spicing them up a little. Consider adding some of these ingredients to mac and cheese, or a simple cheese pizza:

  • Red pepper flakes
  • Hot (Tabasco) sauce
  • Cumin
  • Cilantro
  • Oregano
  • Mole
  • Chipotles
  • Cinnamon (just a little)


2: Buy Prepared Ingredients

You don't have to go fresh to still be delicious!
You don't have to go fresh to still be delicious!

Mexican food is well known for its fresh ingredients. Pico de gallo (garden fresh salsa) and guacamole are just two examples of dishes bursting with just picked goodness. If time is tight, you may not feel all that enthusiastic about making salsa from scratch. Sure, doing everything yourself is gratifying, but if you want to get off your feet sometime before morning, consider stocking as many prepared ingredients as you can. Buy shredded cheese in bulk and freeze what you don't use right away. You can remove what you need right from the freezer for easy access. Keep some jarred salsa, canned beans and instant rice in your cupboard for emergency use, too. Substitute grape or cherry tomatoes for regular tomatoes in your recipes. They're easy to slice and usually have better flavor in the off-season than regular tomatoes. Splurge on prepackaged greens. They're often sealed in stay-fresh bags that extend the life of items like lettuce and spinach up to a week. Prepared greens require less washing and trimming than their loose counterparts, too.


1: Keep Flour Tortillas on Hand

Tortillas are a type of flatbread, and one of the oldest breads known to man. They're a staple of Mexican cuisine, and if your family likes Mexican fare, they should be a staple at your house, too. A package of flour tortillas will last quite a while in your fridge, and they microwave to warm perfection in seconds. They're essential ingredients in dishes like burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas and quesadillas. In a pinch, you can serve them with soup, make chips out of them and even make them into single serving pizzas. Tortillas are very flexible, inexpensive and kid friendly. If you haven't developed a taste for them, try making quesadillas one day soon. They're grilled tortillas filled with cheese and other tasty ingredients. A little experimentation will show you how incredibly versatile this Mexican flatbread can be.

  • Mexican Tortilla Stack-Ups
  • Mexican Pita Pile-Ups
  • Tomato and Bacon Quesadillas


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Davidson, Alan. "The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. 1999.
  • Eat Better America. "Make it Mexican! Quick and easy Mexican dinner ideas, flavorful family-friendly sides, and sweet, slimmed down desserts." (11/18/11). http://www.eatbetteramerica.com/Slideshows/make-it-mexican-quick-and-easy-mexican-dinner-ideas-flavorful-family-friendly-sides-and-sweet-slimmed-down-desserts.aspx
  • Flohr, Frank. "How To Make Chipotle Chiles At Home." 4/18/07. (11/18/11). http://www.articleslog.com/2007/04/18/50717-how-to-make-chipotle-chiles-at-home.html
  • Food Timeline. "Mexican & Tex Mex Foods." (11/18/11). http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodmexican.html
  • Green, Aliza. "Starting With Ingredients." Running Press Book Publishers. 2006.
  • Language Crossing. "Food of Mexico." (11/18/11). http://www.languagecrossing.com/Destinations/Mexico/Food_of_Mexico/