Southern food is synonymous with the good things in life, such as Southern hospitality and hearty comfort foods. In the Southwest, we like to put our own spin on things. Cooking up the Southern foods you’ve grown to love with a little twist, some added spice, and a whole lot of love. If you’re looking to entertain some dinner guests or simply want to broaden your own horizons, here are our top five picks for Southwestern food staples every kitchen should keep stocked.
As the food site Eater explains, the basis for Southwestern cooking centers on three ingredients, known as the “three sisters.” Those three ingredients are corn, beans, and squash. Among these ingredients, corn is probably the most recognizable. It’s a versatile Southwestern food staple that can be used not only as a side dish of its own but as a key ingredient in a wide range of cuisines.
For instance, one of the more popular dishes in the Southwest is good old-fashioned skillet cornbread. We like to serve ours up to our guests right on the skillet with some apple butter and local honey on the side. But corn is a key ingredient in many popular Southwestern entrees as well.
Corn has long been a staple crop of Arizona’s Hopi tribe, and you can see the ingredient’s influence throughout Southwestern cuisine. Corn tortillas are used to make enchiladas and tamales, and cornmeal is also commonly used as a crust for fish dishes. We also like to toss a little corn into our Southwestern egg rolls, along with some pico de gallo, pepper jack cheese, and our next Southwestern food staple, beans.
Another one of the “three sisters,” you won’t find any shortage of beans in Southwestern cuisine. Since beans are an excellent source of protein and incredibly filling, you’ll find an abundance of them in Southwestern-inspired dishes. Pair some beans with cilantro-lime flavored rice, and you have a hearty, satisfying side dish. They can also be used as an ingredient in Southwestern-style salads, nachos, burritos, and border bowls.
While black beans are often a popular choice in Southwestern cooking (we use them as the basis for our veggie burgers), pinto beans are favored by many in the region. As this resource from the University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences points out, pinto beans are an important symbol of regional identity in the Southwest United States. In fact, it’s one of the official state vegetables of New Mexico.
Pinto beans are also the most widely produced bean within the US. They are most often used to make refried beans and chili. They are also an excellent source of fiber, which can lower cholesterol levels, making them a healthy addition to any meal.
Of course, what sets Southwestern food apart from other Southern cuisine is its spice. We like our dishes to have a whole lot of flavor and even a little kick to them. Long a part of Southwestern cuisine, chiles are often the spice of choice.
Both red and green chiles are featured in a variety of dishes and are frequently made into a sauce that’s drizzled on top of huevos rancheros, enchiladas, burritos, and other Southwestern favorites. Chiles also make a great base for salsas that can be enjoyed with your favorite corn tortilla chips or on top of your favorite entree, such as the Famous 48 Border Bowl, for instance.
Though red and green chiles are grown from the same plant, they each have a different taste and texture. Green chiles have a smokier flavor, while red chiles are often earthier and sweeter. Spice levels vary depending on how the chile is prepared and whether the seeds are retained or removed.
Eggs are another one of our favorite Southwestern food staples because of their versatility. They can be prepared in many different ways and eaten for breakfast, added to a main entree, or prepared as a snack in between meals. In fact, deviled eggs are one of the most well-known and loved Southern comfort foods. We like to serve ours up with a little sugar-cured bacon and some jalapenos for a little extra spice.
You can also fry up some eggs and make a classic Southwestern breakfast of huevos rancheros. Simply spread some refried beans over a corn tortilla, add the fried egg, and top it with a little pico de gallo or chile salsa. With just the food staples we’ve discussed so far, and a few extra pantry items like corn flour and cooking oil, you’ll be ready to whip up this delicious, savory Southwestern-style breakfast.
There’s nothing quite like Southern-fried chicken. If you want to give this classic Southern dish a little Southwestern flair, add some seasoning like chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, and paprika. Mix up the spice mixture with some breadcrumbs and cornmeal for some well-seasoned, crispy fried chicken. We like to serve ours with Yukon mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, another Southern classic, on the side.
Of course, chicken goes great in burritos, border bowls, and Southwestern-style egg rolls as well. We also like to pair grilled chicken with our cilantro-lime rice or put it on a skewer and serve it up at a backyard family barbecue.
Stock your kitchen with these Southwestern food staples, along with your preferred spices, and you’ll be ready to start making some delicious Southwestern-inspired meals. If you ever want to take a break from cooking, stop by and visit us at Famous 48.
We’re a local bar and kitchen that treats our guests to only the finest, freshest ingredients sourced from local farmers and ranchers. You’ll truly get a taste of authentic Southwestern cuisine when you come to visit us, and all our favorite Southwestern staples. So if you’re in the Scottsdale area, pull up a seat at our table. We’d love to have you as our dinner guest.