Make an authentic margarita. It couldn’t be simpler. Just combine one ounce each good tequila and triple sec with the juice of one Mexican lime (see Respuestas). This is the best—and strongest—margarita you will ever taste. ¡Salud!
Squeeze a Mexican lime. To keep pesky seeds out of your margarita, use a Mexican squeezer, a two-handled tool with a receptacle for the fruit. Place half of the lime, cut side down, in the concave side of the receptacle (you’d think you would match the curves of the lime and the squeezer, but not so). Squeeze the press closed over a bowl, extracting all the juice.
Season a new comal. A comal is basically a little iron skillet without sides, so the seasoning process is the same. Rub it with vegetable oil and heat it in a 350-degree oven for about an hour. Let cool in the oven. Reapply oil as needed, depending on use.
Make a quesadilla. Mexico’s grilled cheese sandwich is a snap. Sprinkle grated or thinly sliced cheese (like Monterey Jack or Chihuahua) on half a tortilla (corn or flour, your choice), add ingredients such as cooked chorizo or chile rajas (optional), and fold. Heat on a lightly greased comal or skillet until both sides are golden brown and the cheese is melted.
Season a molcajete. This Mexican mortar is made of porous, pitted volcanic stone and needs smoothing before it can be used. Hold the tejolote (pestle) with the small end in your palm and your fingers parallel to its length, lightly grasping it. Press down and, using a rotating motion, grind a handful of wet, raw rice in the molcajete. Repeat until the roughest spots in the bowl are smoothed out. And don’t worry—your skinned fingers will heal soon.
Reheat a tortilla. Common methods range from steaming to (gasp!) microwaving, but the best way is to use a comal. Lightly sprinkle corn tortillas with water (flour tortillas are moist enough) and lay individually on a hot, lightly greased comal. Heat for 15 to 20 seconds, flip, and repeat. Eat immediately.
Peel and eat a mango. There are two basic plans of attack. The first requires a nifty three-tined utensil called a mango fork (available at mangofork.com). Inserted into the stem end of the fruit, it penetrates the pit to stabilize the mango. Score the skin from top to bottom, peel it as you would a banana, and eat it like a Popsicle. For the more dainty (or for cooking purposes), slice the “cheeks” off the fruit (avoiding the flat pit), score cubes into the pulp, flip each cheek inside out, and slice the cubes from the skin.
Make a licuado. To concoct this Mexican milk shake, put ice cubes, fruit (try strawberries, bananas, papayas, peaches, or mangos), milk, and sugar in a blender and purée until smooth and frothy, 20 to 30 seconds.
Make an agua fresca. Combine fruit, ice, sugar, and water in a blender on low speed (to avoid excessive frothiness). Strain to remove any fruit fibers or renegade seeds, then pour over ice. Aguas frescas made with watermelon, cantaloupe, guava, or pear are perfect for hot Texas summers.
Toast nuts, seeds, and spices. Toss them on a hot griddle or comal or in a heavy skillet for a few moments, stirring occasionally. Because their aromas will intensify as they toast, your nose is the best guide to doneness. But don’t get carried away: Overtoasting results in a bitter flavor and smell.
Remove the stickers from a nopal. Wear gloves. Nopales (the pads of a prickly pear cactus) have fiendish spines, and even the young “spineless” nopales may have tiny, evil barbs around the “eyes.” Lay the pad flat and, using a serrated steak knife, scrape against the grain of the stickers. Then cut the pad into strips to make nopalitos.
Roast and seed fresh chiles. Roasting gives chiles a toasty flavor and makes the skin easy to remove. You can roast a single chile directly in a gas flame, turning it with tongs so it blisters evenly. If you have several, heat them near the flames of your broiler, turning until well blistered. Put the roasted chiles in a plastic bag or a covered bowl for about 20 minutes; the skin should peel right off. To remove the seeds and membranes, cut the chile open on one side. A little running water helps with stubborn seeds or bits of skin.
Reconstitute dried chiles. Place chiles in just enough lukewarm-to-hot water to cover and let them soak until pliable, 15 to 20 minutes. Save the water—it gives sauces extra flavor.
Store cilantro. Put the whole bunch in a glass of shallow water in the refrigerator and cover with a plastic bag. Wrap loose sprigs in slightly damp paper towels and store in a plastic bag.