The Homesick Texan's Tex-Mex Pantry

James Beard Award-winning author Lisa Fain visited Food Network Kitchen to share some of her must-have ingredients for Tex-Mex cooking. Here are 10 pantry staples she always keeps on hand.

Homesick Texan Lisa Fain's Pantry Staples

Packed with appealing dishes, Lisa Fain's The Homesick Texan's Family Table will have you sprinting to the kitchen to try your hand at crowd-pleasers like the Jalapeno Pimento Cheese and Banana Pudding with Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Cookies. That's what we wanted to do after Lisa visited Food Network Kitchen to make her Chicken Spaghetti. To get started, we stocked up on some of her must-have ingredients. Here are 10 Tex-Mex staples the James Beard Award-winning author always keeps on hand.


From Food Network Kitchen


"I use buttermilk a lot in baked goods," said Lisa. "It's low-fat but makes things soft and moist because it's acidic. It is also great in dressings (I like the tang). And I drink it — it's an old Southern thing. It's really delicious with day-old cornbread crumbled in the glass."

Canned Tomatoes

"When tomatoes are in season, I use fresh. Otherwise, it's canned," said Lisa, who prefers the neutral flavor of regular tomatoes over the fire-roasted variety.


"This is my favorite herb, though I know some people hate it," said Lisa, who favors the sweet tender stems at the top as well as the leaves. She adds them to pesto, salsa, eggs and enchiladas. "Always buy fresh," she said. "Dried has no flavor."

Dried Chiles

"My grandmother calls me 'The Chile Girl,' I love them that much," Lisa said. Her go-tos are chipotle (smoky and hot), guajillo (berrylike), pasilla (earthy) and ancho (hints of raisin). "Make sure you don't buy dried chiles that are too old. They should be pliable and soft," Lisa said. She soaks them in water and then whizzes them into purees to add to enchilada sauces, chili and soups.


"Everyone loves jalapenos in Texas. They're not too hot but just hot enough," said Lisa. "The heat is in the seeds. Some people leave them in, but they can be very spicy. I put jalapenos in everything, even eggs. I pickle them, stuff them and eat them fresh."


"Lard makes pastry so supple and easy to work with. And refried beans become unctuous," said Lisa. Look for lard that hasn't been hydrogenated, and keep it in the refrigerator. "It'll last a month or two. Smell it to see if it's good." She buys hers from a local butcher, "but you can easily make it yourself from pork back fat," she said. Bacon grease and vegetable oil are fine substitutes.


"Limes add brightness at the end of a dish. I try to buy organic because I also use the zest," Lisa said.

Masa Harina

A corn-based flour used in Mexican cooking, masa harina is the basis for tortillas, for sure, but also tamales, gorditas and the addictive fried corncakes called sopes. "I even use it to thicken chili," Lisa says. "It's made from nixtamalized corn, which is treated with lime. It makes the corn bloom and gives it a deep, toasted flavor." She buys hers at Whole Foods and stores it in the pantry.

Pinto Beans

"They're the most-widely used beans in Texas. You find them in Southern recipes and also Tex-Mex cooking. On Sundays, I'll make a big pot of pintos and use them all week long."


"They are so tangy and bright," Lisa said of the fruits that go into her salsa and Pork Chili Verde. "Store tomatillos in the fridge with the husks and remove them just before cooking. Stick them under the broiler and they turn soft and juicy."

Get the Recipe: Pork Chili Verde