The State Fair of Texas was canceled this year, but don’t mess with Tex-Mex. Widely beloved and wildly misunderstood, the label “Tex-Mex” dates back to the 1960s, but the cuisine’s culinary roots go back further, to a time before a border was drawn between Texas and Mexico. Today, Tex-Mex is “a breed of its own, with strong, unique traits. And a tradition unto itself,” writes cookbook author Pati Jinich.
The taste of Tex-Mex owes its architecture to Tejano cooks, as historian and journalist Gustavo Arellano writes in his seminal “Tacos U.S.A.,” and it has long depended on imported and Indigenous ingredients, as well as American appetites. But like Southwestern cuisine, its lasting, primary influence is tied to the foodways of Mexico.
From the combo plate — a build-your-own adventure meal that parks a main course such as tacos or tamales next to rice, beans and sour cream — to cheese enchiladas, fajitas, queso and frozen margaritas, a Tex-Mex menu, no matter if it’s in D.C., Detroit or Dallas, is easily recognizable. Bring the saucy textures and spicy flavors of Tex-Mex into your kitchen with these nine recipes. For even more Tex-Mex-inspired dishes, search our Recipe Finder.
Tex-Mex Migas, above. Whether prepared in the United States or Mexico, migas share a lineage to Spanish and Portuguese migas, a dish that uses up leftover bread. Tex-Mex migas are designed to use up leftover tortillas or tortilla chips. In this version, adapted from Republic Cantina in Washington, peppers, onions, pico de gallo and cheese are scrambled into eggs along with broken up tortilla chips. Then, serve the migas with warm tortillas, avocado and cilantro sprigs.
Queso Tacos. The tempting bowl of molten orange cheese and chiles known as queso or chile con queso, is inextricable from definitions of Tex-Mex. Here’s cookbook author Lisa Fain’s recipe, which she suggests you pour over tacos for a satisfying supper.
Tex-Mex Chili. Texas’s official state dish since 1977 is a meaty, chile-laden stew officially known as chile con carne or Texas red. Famously hearty and tinged with cumin, an old debate lingers about whether to add beans or tomatoes. This version, from chef Pati Jinich, uses both to great effect, as well as several types of chile pepper for gentle layers of heat. Or, make chili-smothered enchiladas.
Poblano, Bacon and Cheddar Skillet Cornbread. Cornbread is, of course, popular outside of Texas, but this skillet version, with charred poblanos, bacon and cheddar, feels particularly of the Lone Star State. Whole corn kernels, folded in at the end, add even more texture, and a hint of sweetness.
Tex-Mex Quinoa. Spiked with jalapeño and studded with black beans and corn against a base note of cumin, this quinoa comes together quickly in one pot. Serve it with grilled chicken or sauteed chorizo, roasted squash or cubes of avocado for a flavorful meal.
Frito Slab Pie. The origin story of Frito pie, is, like many other regional foods, hotly debated. Some say Mexico, others Santa Fe and still others claim Texas is its true birthplace. Regardless, the hot mess of crunchy chips, thick chili and melty cheese that’s served directly in a split open bag of Fritos has many fans — even in the Midwest, where it’s called a walking taco. This homey version is baked atop a slab of cornbread, and can be made ahead and reheated.
Poblano, Sweet Potato and Mushroom Fajitas. The word fajita means “little belt” in Spanish, as that’s the part of the cow this cut comes from. But ever since the dish was popularized in the 1970s, fajitas have come to describe any sizzling platter of food that can be folded into a tortilla. Here, poblanos, sweet potatoes and mushrooms are quickly roasted on a sheet pan until cooked and lightly crisp. Make the creamy lime and cilantro crema while the vegetables cook, and serve it all with warm flour tortillas.
Black Bean Burritos. Employ your multicooker to help infuse dried black beans with smokiness from paprika and ancho chile. Then, wrap them in large flour tortillas with crispy chorizo, scrambled eggs and cheese for breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner. Bonus: The bean recipe makes extra, which you can use for another recipe, such as this chipotle-garlic chopped salad.
Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas. Prepared enchilada sauce makes quick work of this casserole, in which boneless, skinless chicken thighs are simmered in sauce before being wrapped in corn tortillas and baked in yet more sauce and cheese. Serve them restaurant-style, with rice, beans, salsa and sour cream on the side.
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