To prep a Mexican meal properly, there are a few non-negotiables. Fortunately, apart from some non-negotiable fresh foods such as avocado and limes, most of the pillar stones of Mexican cuisine have a long shelf life.

Keep these staples in your pantry and you’ll never be stuck for easy dinner ideas. And thanks to the communal (and scalable) nature of Mexican dishes, you can easily handle catering for a crowd – even at short notice.

Tortillas and taco shells
These are pretty essential, especially for a classic build-your-own taco. And both tortillas and taco shells are surprisingly versatile. Can’t choose between hard or soft shell tacos? Por que no los dos? You can break up leftover taco shells to add to a salad, or substitute for corn chips on a nachos platter. Although tortillas are most famous for their role in the burrito, they can also be the essential base for a tostada (a kind of flat, open taco). You can also use them to make cheesy, pull-apart quesadillas. With corn tortillas on hand you can make anything from enchiladas to taquitos, flautas and even DIY tamales. If you’re confident enough, you can pick up some masa flour and a tortilla press and try making them from scratch.

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Beans (canned and dried)
Together with corn, beans are perhaps the most important ingredient in Mexican cooking. And these nutrient-dense little beauties are also an excellent form of protein (especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan). Black beans can be added to tacos or burritos, but they have more than enough character to anchor an aromatic stew on their own. Pinto beans, though tough to find in Australia (substitute with borlotti beans) have a bunch of different uses, too, and work especially well in a creamy Mexican dip, which will come together in moments in a food processor. Refried beans are perfect for many Mexican classics, such as breakfast-time huevos rancheros. Beyond canned beans, you can often find a wider variety in dried form (although rehydrating them can be finnicky and time-consuming). And it always pays to have a bag of rice on hand – rice and beans are classic partners.

Old El Paso Burrito Bowl Kits
Speaking of rice and beans, they’re key to the hearty brightness of Old El Paso Burrito Bowl Kits, which let you enjoy all the fragrant fillings of a stuffed burrito in cosy bowl form. The kits come with seasoned rice, a chicken-seasoning mix and a seasoning mix for a topping sauce. All you need to do is supply the chicken, beans, lettuce, yoghurt and chopped tomatoes to top it all off. The whole thing is ready in around 30 minutes. Varieties include chilli and paprika, and chipotle chicken. It’s the perfect shortcut to creating a colourful and flavourful Mexican feast, and each kit serves four. The kits’ mild spice level won’t scare off the heat-averse, and spice lovers can add their own heat at home with the hot sauce of their choice.

Herbs and spices
We often think “spicy” when we think of our favourite Mexican food, but it’s more accurate to think of it as “spiced”. Contrary to popular belief, chillies and spices aren’t in most dishes to provide a hot kick. They’re there to contribute to a dish’s overall flavour. Some popular spices in Mexican cuisine, which it pays to have on hand in the pantry, might surprise you. Cumin, cayenne, dried coriander, and garlic and onion powder are all readily available spices that can take your cooking to the next level. You’ll also want to have some bay leaves handy, as well as fresh herbs such as coriander, basil, sage, thyme and marjoram. (You can grow some of these at home to save yourself last-minute supermarket trips.) You don’t need immediate access to an international grocer to stock up on Mexican-friendly herbs and spices: most of them are already widely available if you want to make your own blend, or use a taco spice mix if you’re stretched for time.

Chillies & hot sauces
There’s a dazzling number of different fresh chillies in Australia, for all kinds of personal heat preferences. Habaneros and jalapenos are quite common here, as are green and red cayenne peppers. You can often leave the seeds out when chopping to reduce the heat level, and many are available in a paste, can, jar or in dried or frozen form for ease of storing over time. As for hot sauces, many trusted brands from Mexico and the US are now sold in Australia, and indie hot sauce makers are thriving in both the cities and the regions. There is always a market for the ones that go extra hard (blame Hot Ones), but there’s actually a wide spectrum. And bringing out a selection of hot sauces when you’re hosting a Mexican feast just adds that extra something to the customisable fun.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Old El Paso Burrito Bowl Kits.