Cook Southwest gourmet on a budget

Southwest cooking doesn't have to mean just tacos and tortilla soup. Southwestern cuisine is a unique blend of flavors and spices, influenced by the Spanish colonial settlers and Native American tribes, as well as our Mexican neighbors. With all of this influence, there is absolutely no reason you should ever get tired of Southwestern cuisine.

This is one cuisine that is extremely budget friendly, even when kicked up a notch or two into gourmet territory. Here are a few ways to transform your everyday Southwest dishes into gourmet style:

Swap out other recipes with Southwest ingredients

One of the great concepts of gourmet cooking is that you can take any basic dish and transform it by adding new tastes and textures. You can even take a classic dish from one region and totally change it to represent another part of the world.

For instance, if you were to take an Italian style dish like lasagna, and make it with some Southwestern ingredients, you will get an unusual and delicious variation on an expected meal. Just imagine adding corn, black beans, and chilies to the sauce while topping it off with Oaxaca cheese. Lasagna just got a passport to another hemisphere!

Use this technique as an affordable way to change up your everyday dishes, the ones you make over and over again, and give them a new spin to keep even you guessing where the flavor will end up. Take a look at your recipes and see if you can't choose ingredients from another region to entirely change the dish. It's fun to see, and taste, the results.

Try variations on the same ingredient

If you are already well-versed in Southwestern cooking, you still have the option to gussy it up by adding new tastes and textures to your favorites. For instance, substitute pork for beef in some of your recipes. You can also add heavy cream or even sour cream to some of your dishes to give it a richer feel on the palate and cut some of the heat out of the chilies.

Here are a few suggestions to try if you wanted to substitute ingredients in your favorite dishes in order to come up with gourmet-style Southwestern meals:

Cheese - Queso fresco, casero, Panela, queso blanco, Oaxaca, Asadero

Chiles - Anaheim, Poblano, Ancho, Pasillas, Guajillos, Jalapenos, Chipotles, Serranos, Chiles de árbol, Cayenne, Habaneros

Herbs and spices - Cumin, coriander or cilantro, epazote, annato seed

Core ingredients - Agave, black beans, corn, figs, mango, nopales, pumpkin, sunflower seeds

Experiment with new ingredients

Southwest style cooking has a large number of unique ingredients which are amazing tools for bumping up the gourmet factor. With food items like yucca, tomatillo, nopales, jicama, blue corn, and even cactus, you can cook for a month without ever repeating a key ingredient. Don't limit these ingredients to just dinner, either. Try these unique ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as breads, desserts, and snacks.

Many of these ingredients can be found at local stores with a little effort in the search. They are generally inexpensive, or they last for a long time which factors the price down per use. Experimenting with new ingredients is always fun and can open your eyes to new possibilities and different ways to cook the same dish. This is especially fun if you've already been cooking Southwest style for a while.