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Originally published Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 3:02 PM

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Substitutes for common Mexican specialty foods

If you start a recipe and are missing an Mexican specialty ingredient check out this list for a possible substitute.

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From achiote to tomatillos, here are some of the most common Mexican specialty food items and suggested substitutions in case you can't find them at your market.

Achiote paste: Rust-colored flavorful paste made from the flowering seed of the annatto shrub. It can be found in the ethnic section of the grocery store.

Substitute: Achiote oil may be available. Turmeric powder, just enough to color the dish (1 to 2 tablespoons per recipe), should do. Too much can make the dish bitter.

Queso fresco: Fresh Mexican cheese with a crumbly texture and slightly acidic flavor.

Substitute: Feta cheese.

Dried California/Mew Mexico chili: Dark burgundy chili with a mild to medium-hot flavor.

Substitute: Ancho chili pepper, a more commonly found dried chili.

Panela cheese: Fresh Mexican cheese made from whole unpasteurized milk curds.

Substitute: Monterey Jack or mozzarella.

Mexican chorizo: Spicy pork sausage.

Substitute: Hot Italian sausage or make your own with ground pork, garlic, cumin and paprika.

Chile de arbol: Small, bright red, fairly hot dried Mexican chili.

Substitute: Chile powder.

Tamarind pods: Tropical fruit both sweet and sour in taste.

Substitute: Lemon juice, lime juice or cider vinegar with a little sugar added.

Maggi sauce: Hydrolyzed vegetable protein-based sauce used as a flavor enhancer in Latin/Asian cuisine. It can be found in the ethnic section of the grocery store.

Substitute: Equal part mixture of Worcestershire sauce and dark soy sauce.

Masa harina: Popular Mexican flour made from treated corn.

Substitute: Finely ground corn meal.

Tomatillo: Mexican relative to the gooseberry with a tart flavor.

Substitute: Green tomato and lime juice.

Courtesy Marcela Valladolid, host of "Mexican Made Easy'"on

For more information, visit

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