When I was growing up in Texas, my family spent every Sunday eating BBQ brisket sandwiches, coleslaw, and pecan pie, and my friends and I went out for chips and queso and sizzling fajitas. When I moved to New York after college, I gave up this weekly tradition — all the Tex-Mex flavors disappeared, and grilling outside just wasn't an option.
After eight years of eating my way through New York, however, I'm finally back in Austin and I'm trying to embrace my culinary roots. I've stocked my pantry with all my favorite Texas ingredients. These ingredients are always easy to find, affordable, and can turn any sad weeknight dinner into a masterpiece at any moment. Here are five of my favorite pantry essentials.
Pecans are a staple in Texas, and something everyone needs in their pantry (because pie!). With BBQ and smoked meats everywhere, it's ideal to keep these nuts on hand should you need to whip up a pecan pie for a backyard BBQ or make a bourbon-spiced nut mixture with cayenne and cumin for an appetizer to go with a cold beer. You can find Texas pecans on the side of the road in between major cities, and at any grocery store.
While everyone thinks of California as the place with the best avocados, Texas also knows what it's doing when it comes to the creamy green fruit. Whether you want to create an avocado enchilada sauce or salad dressing, stuff one with ground beef, or even put it in margaritas to make it thicker, avocados are a staple in Texan cuisine.
3. Sparkling Water
Sparkling water is a big deal in Texas. When trying to survive 100-degree weather multiple months out of the year, the only saving grace besides watering holes and swimsuits is crisp, bubbly water. My sparkling water of choice is Richard's Rainwater. It's actual rainwater that is caught and bottled in Dripping Springs, right outside of Austin. It stays bubbly and fizzy, even 24 hours after you pop the top off, which is unlike any other water I've found. I drink this morning, noon, and night — especially after a hot summer day or workout.
4. Corn Tortillas
You'll find tostadas and tacos all over Texas. The homemade corn tortillas are a tad thicker than flour and sometimes offer more flavor. If you don't want to make your own tortillas, H-E-B has a great selection. Should you have a last-minute dinner party or want to throw together a late night "everything but the kitchen sink" meal, you can always count on tortillas to make things a little more cohesive.
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Everyone needs a good jar of salsa in their pantry. You can use these to pair with raw vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers, or to complete a grilled steak or fish. I also use chunky salsa as a salad dressing to keep it light.