South Of The Border: The Best Of Southwest Cuisine

The Southwest is rich in Spanish, Mexican, and Native American heritage. Contemporary cuisine of the Southwest remains alive with cultural traditions, and offers a unique balance of robust spices and mild ingredients. From tacos to tortilla soup, this regional cuisine is a favorite for many.

Southwest Roots

Rooted in this regional fare are ingredients like corn, chilies, squash, tomatoes, avocados, and beans. Spanish settlers borrowed farming techniques from Aztecs, Navajo, and other tribes, and eventually welcomed pigs and cattle into their diets. The Spanish introduced Sangria, the classic beverage made of red wine and fresh fruit, by planting wine grapes around their settlements. Stews and meat-heavy dishes are also cherished cultural traditions. In the less arid Southwest regions, natives would hunt wild game and freshwater fish. This inspired the hearty soups, roasts, and crock pot dishes that are facets of contemporary southwest cooking.

Regional Styles

The broad scope of Southwest cuisine is comprised of its regional traditions. Examples of regional cuisine include: Tex-Mex, Sonoran-style, Cal-Mex, and New Mexican-style. Since the Mexican-American War, Mexican foods and culinary traditions have had a major influence on American tastes. Tex-Mex developed along the border States and is the most popular style of Southwest cuisine. Blending ingredients from the U.S. and traditional Mexican culinary styles, Tex-Mex is characterized by its emphasis on beef, melted cheese, beans, spices, and tortillas. Common creations from this style of cooking include chili con queso and fajitas. New Mexican-style cooking originated in Mexico before the U.S. acquisition. Green chilies are used in many dishes of this region, which is often the main ingredient that sets it apart.

Chilis Give A Kick

The heat of the Southwest plays a defining role in the region's foods and flavors. Not only does it influence farming conditions, the fire from the sun also gives the culture a touch of spice. Chilies are one of the most popular foods of the Southwest. There are over 200 varieties available and have been eaten by natives for thousands of years. Chilies are often roasted or smoked, and used in a variety of dishes as either the main ingredient or flavorful addition. Potency can range from mild to extremely hot, but note that color is not an indicator of heat, like many people assume. The heat is determined by a chili's capsaicin, a heat-containing compound located in the seeds and ribs. You can cut out this part of the chili to reduce heat if it's too powerful.

Hot And Spicy

Southwest cuisine is an inspired culinary style that draws from many diverse cultures. Because this style is so broad in scope, Tex-Mex and other regional styles give character to the unique tastes and traditions of specific locations. Southwest dishes are loved by many people because they combine a great variety of spices, flavors, colors, and smells that bring a sensual flair to cooking unlike any other cuisine.

This article is presented by The Scottsdale Culinary Institute. The Scottsdale Culinary Institute offers Le Cordon Bleu culinary education classes and culinary training programs in Scottsdale, Arizona. To learn more about the class offerings, please visit for more information.

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