Adobo/adobado: "Typical Mexican adobos are stewlike presentations of meat in savory red chile sauce. Don't confuse the noun adobo, referring to the whole dish, with the adjective adobado, which is used for something marinated in a punchier version of this sauce," says chef Rick Bayless. Some don't make the distinction. "Adobo sauce" is a red sauce or paste that has come to refer to a sauce made with chipotle chiles.
Aguas frescas: Cold drinks made with fresh fruit mixed with water. More water-based than juice, but always starts with fresh ingredients, not powder.
Ancho: The dried form of the poblano chile, it has a deep brown color and is the sweetest of the dried chiles.
Annatto: Annatto (achiote) is a red seed with a mild earthy flavor. It is used in cooking for both color and flavor and can also be used to dye fabric. It is sold as a pressed block.
Avocado: Avocado is a popular Mexican ingredient, used in both salsas and to make guacamole.
Beans: Beans are also known as frijoles. Pinto and Black turtle beans are the main types. Black turtle beans are used to make refried beans.
Chillies: Chillies are a primary flavor ingredient in Mexican food, whether smoked, dried, fresh or picked. Some of the most popular types include ancho chillies (mild and sweet – known as poblano when fresh); guajillo (requires long soaking); habanero (a super-hot variety); jalepeno (the most common – known as chipotle when smoked and dried); and pasilla (mild to medium hot).
Carne al pastor: A meat filling used for tacos. It's always pork, always seasoned with red chile (usually chipotle) and spices. It's often served with pineapple.
Chayote: A small, gourdlike fruit that looks like a pear and is similar in taste and texture to squash. Also used in Louisiana cooking, where it is called mirliton. Can be prepared in any way suitable for summer squash, or stuffed like bell peppers. Sometimes called a vegetable pear.
Chicharron: Crisp snack made from pork skin fried twice.
Chipotle: The dried, smoked form of the jalapeno chile. It has a wrinkled, dark brown skin and a smoky, sweet, almost chocolatey flavor.
Chocolate: Mexican chocolate is dark and bitter chocolate flavored with cinnamon, almond and cloves. Used to make hot chocolate drinks.
Fresh Coriander: Coriander (cilantro) is the most commonly used fresh herb in Mexican cooking.
Guajillo: A dried chile with shiny, smooth red skin that is very tough, so it must be soaked longer than other chiles. Can be quite hot. "What anchos are to 'deep' and 'rich,' guajillos are to 'spicy' and 'dynamic,'" says Bayless.
Huitlacoche: A fungus (almost like a truffle) that grows on corn. It has a unique flavor and is used in coups and salsas.
Hominy: Hominy is dried white corn (maiz blanco) that is used to make a much loved dish called Pozole. Some small restaurants in Mexico serve only this dish.
Jalapeño: Named after Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz, Mexico, these smooth, dark green (scarlet red when ripe) chiles range from hot to very hot. In dried form, they are known as chipotle chiles.
Jamaica: Jamaica is a wild rosella flower that is used to make a cold tea.
Jicama or yam bean: Jicama or yam bean is a crunchy root vegetable. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
Lime: Lime (Limon) is widely used in salsas, marinades and margaritas.
Mole: A rich, dark, reddish-brown sauce. There are many variations of this spicy Mexican specialty, usually depending on what's in the cook's kitchen. Generally, mole is a smooth, cooked blend of onion, garlic, several varieties of chiles, and even Mexican chocolate.
Nopales: A type of cactus sold in jars that is an essential ingredient in Mexican cooking. When cut into strips, it is known as Nopalitos.
Pasilla: The dried form of the chilaca chile. This rich-flavored, medium-hot chile is blackish-brown in color, which is why it's sometimes called chile negro.
Pico de gallo: Translates literally as "rooster's beak," a relish made of finely chopped ingredients, such as jicama, onions, chiles and cucumbers, as well as seasonings. So named because it was once purportedly eaten with the thumb and finger, an action that resembles a rooster's pecking beak.
Poblano: A dark (sometimes almost black) green chile with a rich flavor that varies from mild to snappy. Best known as the chile of choice for chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers). In its dried form, known as an ancho chile.
Queso fresco: A white, slightly salty, fresh Mexican cheese with a texture similar to farmers' cheese. Also called queso blanco
Serrano: A small, slightly pointed chile that has a very hot, savory flavor. More predictably hot than a jalapeno. Also referred to as chile verde (green chile).
Tomatillos: Tomatillos are sold as a canned product. They look like a small green tomato but are actually a member of the gooseberry family. They have a very tart flavor and are used in many dishes included salsas and stews.
Tortillas: Tortillas are soft, pancake like flatbreads, made with corn or wheat that are eaten with most meals.
Sources: The Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst; Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen by Rick Bayless; Margaret Lundy