New Mexican cuisine is a food-culture fusion of Spanish and Mediterranean, Mexican, Pueblo/Native American, and Cowboy Chuckwagon influences. New Mexicans pride themselves on the chile that infuses the cuisine; we are, after all, the only state with an official question – ‘red or green?’ – that refers to your choice of chile. Within a half mile of the Downtown core you’ll find over 35 restaurants, bars, and lounges to taste our signature flavor- nearly all of them independent and locally owned. (Click here for a list.) Don’t forget to check out our Downtown Growers’ Market for your fresh, local, and organic produce and prepared foods, too. Before taking a seat and sweating it out red-chile style, here’s the scoop on our local cuisine:
- Chile or chili? Debates on the correct spelling are heated. Chile is the Spanish adaptation of chili, the Aztec name for the pod. Chili, at least in New Mexico, refers to Texas soup, prepared with diced or ground beef and chili powder (or both).
- Chile powder vs. chili powder. Chile powder spelled with an “e” refers to pure ground, dried chile peppers. Chili powder spelled with an “i” is a powdered seasoning mix of dried chiles, garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander and cloves.
- Red or green sauce? Chile is usually served as a green or red sauce. Its heat level or “bite” can vary from easygoing (1) to fiery hot (10). Before ordering, be sure to ask your waiter which is the “hot of the day.” Red sauce is also known as enchilada sauce since it’s often found in that dish. Compared with green sauce, red sauce has a rich earthy flavor and adds an unusually sweet punch to most dishes.
- Chile painkiller. Dairy products like milk and yogurt – not water – dull the chile bite.
- Red chiles. Green chiles that ripen on the vine turn red. The fresh pods are often “braided” into a ristra (a string of pods) and hung to sun dry. Once dried, they’re either ground or crushed for seasonings and sauces.
- Green chiles. Before green chiles are used in cooking, they’re usually roasted in a wire mesh basket that rotates over a gas flame and then peeled. Green chiles are used in numerous recipes including relishes, sauces, stews and bread.
- Chile rellenos. These are plump green chiles packed with cheese, dipped in cornmeal and then deep-fried.
- Chorizo breakfast burrito. A flour tortilla rolled with scrambled egg bits, chopped onion, cubed potatoes, shredded cheese, red or green chile and chorizo, a spicy sausage.
- Enchilada. Rolled or flat corn tortillas either topped or stuffed with meat, cheese, onion, and smothered in red or green chile sauce.
- Tamales. Red chile pork wrapped in fresh masa (corn dough) and encased in a cornhusk. Tamales are also prepared as a sweet, a holiday tradition in Mexico. Sweet tamales are made with raisins, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, pecans and brown sugar.
- Huevos rancheros (ranch-style eggs). Best breakfast. Fried eggs lavished with green sauce and garnished with tomatoes and onions.
- Chilehead is an experienced chile chomper. The hotter the chile, the better the ‘head’.
- Hotluck. A potluck centered on chile dishes.
- Chile-fix. Chile is addictive. New Mexicans usually require a daily “fix.”
- Chile “flashes” or sweating at the brow may occur after eating a particularly “hot” chile-laced dish. Chile flashes are similar to hot flashes but they’re self-induced and are gender non-specific.
- Capsaisin [kap-SAY-ih-sihn] is what gives chiles their bite (and subsequent addictive qualities). The substance is localized around the stems, inner membranes and seeds.
adapted from chiletraditions.com