New Mexican cuisine
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New Mexican cuisine is the regional cuisine of New Mexico. Part of the broader Southwestern cuisine, New Mexico food culture is a fusion of Spanish and Mediterranean, Mexican, Pueblo Native American, and Cowboy Chuckwagon influences. "New Mexican food is similar to but not quite the same as Mexican and Tex-Mex" foods preferred in Texas and Arizona. New Mexico is the only state with an official question—"Red or green?"—referring to the choice of red or green chile. Combining both red and green chile is often referred to as "Christmas."
Chile and other ingredients
One of its defining characteristics of New Mexican Cuisine is the dominance of the New Mexican chile, which are either red or green depending on their stage of ripeness when picked. Other distinctive elements include blue corn, the stacked enchilada, and sopapillas into which honey is added moments before eating.
The New Mexico chile, especially when harvested as green chile, is perhaps the defining ingredient of New Mexican food compared to neighboring styles. Chile is New Mexico's largest agricultural crop. Within New Mexico, green chile is a popular ingredient in a wide range of foods including enchiladas and burritos, cheeseburgers, french fries, bagels, and pizzas, and is added to the standard menu or offered off-menu of many national American food chains. In the early twenty-first century, green chile also become increasingly available outside of New Mexico.
Before the arrival of Europeans, New Mexico's current borders overlapped the areas of the Navajo, Mescalero, and Chiricahua tribes. The Spaniards brought their cuisine which mingled with the indigenous. At the end of the Mexican-American War, New Mexico became part of the United States, and was strongly influenced by incoming American tastes.
This distinct history—combined with the local terrain and climate—has resulted in significant differences between the cuisine of New Mexico and somewhat similar styles in California, Arizona, and Texas. Many residents in the north and the capital, Santa Fe, are descended from Spanish noblemen and explorers who came in the 1500s. Mexicans arrived later. "Anglos" and African Americans traded and settled after the Civil War. New Mexico's population includes Native Americans who have been on the land thousands of years. Most recently, Asian and Indochinese immigrants have discovered New Mexico.
When New Mexicans refer to chile they are talking about pungent pods, or sauce made from those pods, not the concotion of spices, meat and/or beans known as Texas chili con carne. While chile, the pod, is sometimes spelled chili, chilli, or chillie elsewhere, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico made this state's spelling official by entering it into the Congressional Record.
Popular foods and dishes
The following foods and dishes are common in New Mexican cuisine. Many are similar to Mexican or Spanish foods, often with modifications (such as the addition of chile) and sometimes with linguistic differences (for example, the diminutively suffixed bizcochitos instead of the conventional bizcochos used in some of Latin America and Spain).
- Albóndigas: meatballs
- Atole: a thick, hot gruel made from corn
- Biscochito: anise-flavored cookie, sometimes made with lard.
- Burrito: a small-to-medium white flour tortilla, filled with fried meat, beans, sour cream, green chile, or a combination of these, and rolled, it is often served smothered with green/red chile sauce and melted cheese. The California-style variant is usually much larger (often twice as large or more), includes rice, and may use colored and flavored tortillas.
- Breakfast burrito: a smaller-sized breakfast version of the above, typically including scrambled eggs, potatoes, red or green chile, cheese, and sometimes meat.
- Calabacitas: Green summer squash with onions, garlic, and other vegetables, fried.
- Caldillo: a thin, green chile stew (or soup) of meat (usually beef, often pork or a mixture), potatoes, and green chiles
- Capirotada: a dessert traditionally made during Lent festivities made of fried slices of birote or bolillo bread, then soaked in melted 'piloncillo, garnished with coconut, peanuts, orange slices and nut bits, served warm or cold
- Carne adovada: Cubes of pork that have been marinated and cooked in red chile, garlic and oregano, often spicy.
- Carne asada: roasted or broiled meat (often flank steak), marinaded.
- Chalupa: a corn tortilla, fried into a bowl shape and filled with shredded chicken or other meat, and/or beans, and usually topped with guacamole and salsa. (Contrast with the larger and vegetable-laden California-style equivalent known as taco salads; compare with tostadas.)
- Chicharrones: small pieces of pork rind with a thin layer of meat that are deep-fried
- Chicharrones de cuero: strips of pork skin that are deep-fried (see Pork rind)
- Chile or chile sauce: A sauce made from red or green chiles by a variety of recipes, and served hot over many (perhaps any) New Mexican dish. Chile does not use vinegar, unlike most salsas, picantes and other hot sauces. Green chile is made with chopped roasted chiles, while red chile is made with chiles dried and ground to a powder. Thickeners like flour, and various spices are often added, especially ground cumin, coriander and oregano. Chile is one of the most definitive differences between New Mexican and other Mexican and Mexican-American cuisines (which often make a different green chile sauce from tomatillos). Mexican and Californian tend to use various specialized sauces for different dishes, while Tex-Mex leans toward the use of salsa picante and chili con carne (and even Cajun-style Louisiana hot sauce). New Mexican cuisine uses chile sauce as taco sauce, enchilada sauce, burrito sauce, etc. (though any given meal may use both red and green varieties for different dishes). A thicker version of green chile, with larger pieces of the plant, plus onions and other additions, is called green chile stew and is popular in Albuquerque-style New Mexican food; it is used the same way as green chile sauce, as a topping for virtually anything, including American dishes. The term "Christmas" is commonly used in New Mexico when both red and green chiles are used for one dish.
- Chiles: peppers of the Capsicum genus. The New Mexico chile is a local cultivar of the species, or subspecies of C. annuum. It is visually and genetically similar to Anaheim peppers, but usually hotter with a different flavor and texture. The large, flavorful New Mexican variety gives the region's cuisine much of its distinctive style, and used so extensively that it is known simply as "chile". Green chiles are those that are picked unripe; they are fire-roasted, then peeled before further use. Unlike the ultra-mild canned supermarket green chiles, New Mexico green chiles can range from mild to hotter than jalapeños, and come in grades of spiciness at markets that cater to chile aficionados. The climate of New Mexico tends to increase the capsaicin levels in the chile compared to other areas. Red chiles are the ripe form of the same plant (though particular strains are bred for intended use as red or green chile). Generally more piquant than green chiles, they too can be roasted, but are usually dried; they can be added whole, to spice an entire stew, or more often are ground into powder or sometimes flakes. Freshly dried red chiles are sold in string-bound bundles called ristras, which are a common decorative sight on porches and in homes and businesses throughout the Southwest. Chiles may be referred to as chile peppers, especially if the sentence requires them to be distinguished from the chile sauce made from them. The bulk of, and allegedly the best of, New Mexico chiles are grown in and around Hatch, in southern New Mexico. Chimayo in northern New Mexico is also well known for its chile peppers.
- Chile con queso: chile and melted cheese mixed together into a dip. (Not to be confused with chili con queso, which is Tex-Mex-style chili con carne stew topped with cheese); 'chile' and 'chili' are pronounced slightly differently by knowledgeable English speakers in New Mexico, especially if the difference would be semantically important; the pronunciation of 'chile' leans at least slightly toward the Spanish source, e.g. "cheelay", at least when necessary.)
- Chiles rellenos: whole green chiles stuffed, dipped in an egg batter, and fried. This dish varies from other Mexican-style cuisines in that it uses the New Mexican pepper, rather than a poblano pepper.
- Chimichanga: a small, deep-fried meat and (usually) bean burrito, also containing (or smothered with) chile sauce and cheese; popularized by the Allsup's convenience store chain with a series of humorous commercials in the 1980s with candid footage of people attempting and failing to pronounce the name correctly. Chimichangas, like flautas and taquitos, are a fast-food adaptation of traditional dishes in a form that can be stored frozen and then quickly fried as needed; they are also rigid and easily hand-held, and thus easy to eat by people while walking or driving.
- Chorizo: spicy pork sausage, seasoned with garlic and red chile, usually used in ground or finely chopped form as a breakfast side dish or quite often as an alternative to ground beef or shredded chicken in other dishes.
- Churro: a fried-dough pastry-based snack. Churros are typically fried until they become crunchy, and may be sprinkled with sugar. The surface of a churro is ridged due to having been piped from a churrera, a syringe with a star-shaped nozzle. Churros are generally prisms in shape, and may be straight, curled or spirally twisted.
- Cilantro: a pungent green herb (also called Mexican or Chinese parsley, the seeds of which are known as coriander) used fresh in salsas, and as a topping for virtually any dish; not common in traditional New Mexican cuisine, but one of the defining tastes of Santa Fe style.
- Cowboy bowl.
- Empanadita: a little empanada; a pasty or turnover filled with minced meat, spices and nuts, or sweet fruit.
- Enchiladas: corn tortillas filled with chicken meat, and/or cheese, they are either rolled, or stacked, and covered with chile sauce and cheese. The stacked version is called a flat enchilada, and is normally referred to in New Mexico as a Santa Fe-style enchilada. It is usually covered with either red or green chile sauce, and optionally topped with a fried egg. In California-style Mexican-American food, enchiladas are invariably each a discrete item; New Mexico-style enchiladas are often prepared fused together on a pan, assembled and placed in the oven, or in a casserole dish, and tend to be served in a manner reminiscent of lasagna, though the California style is becoming more common, especially in upscale restaurants geared toward those unfamiliar with the local cooking style. Flat enchiladas made with blue corn tortillas are a particularly New Mexican variation.
- Flan: a caramel custard.
- Flauta: a small, tightly rolled, fried enchilada; contrast chimichangas and taquitos.
- Frijoles: beans, pinto beans (along with chile, one of the official state vegetables).
- Green chile cheeseburger: widely considered the New Mexican variety of hamburger, it is a regular hamburger that is topped with melted cheese and either whole or chopped green chile. The flavor is very distinctively New Mexican as opposed to other types of hamburgers.
- Green chile stew: similar to caldito with the use of green chile.
- Guacamole: mashed, seasoned avocado, usually with chopped vegetables such as onion and tomatoes, and sometimes garlic, lime and chile; often served with chips.
- Horno: an outdoor, beehive-shaped oven ubiquitous in Pueblo communities.
- Huevos rancheros: traditionally, these eggs are poached in chile. The modern dish is typically fried eggs (sunny-side up or over easy) covered with cheese or a chile salsa; often served with pinto beans.
- Jalapeño: a small, fat chile pepper, ranging from mild to painfully hot, occasionally used chopped (fresh) in salsa, sliced (pickled) on nachos, or split (fresh) and stuffed with cheese (outside of New Mexico, cream cheese is more common). Although jalapeños are common to all Mexican and Mexican-American cuisines, their use in New Mexican food tends to be lesser, in favor of green chile. Because New Mexican cultivars of the green chile approach them in piquancy, they are often used only when their distinct flavor is desired.
- Mole sauce: Spices, almonds, red chile, tomatoes, and chocolate, often served with chicken.
- Natillas: soft custard dessert
- Navajo Taco: a taco on Native American frybread, rather than a tortilla.
- Oregano: A flavorful herb used in many cuisines, and most closely associated with Italian food, its heavy use in American cuisine in general has supplanted the use of the unrelated but somewhat similar Mexican oregano spice in New Mexican (as well as Californian and Tex-Mex) cuisine, though some cooks prefer to use Mexican oregano, which remains easily obtainable in New Mexico.
- Panocha: Flour made from sprouted wheat or a pudding made from this flour
- Pico de gallo ("rooster's beak"): A cold salsa with thick-chopped fresh chiles, tomatoes, onions and cilantro, it does not have a tomato paste base like commercial packaged salsas, and never contains vinegar.
- Piñones: piñon (or pine) nuts, a traditional food of Native Americans in New Mexico that is harvested from the ubiquitous pinyon pine tree.
- Pine (pinyon) nuts: Nuts of the pinyon pine; often sold at roadside stands.
- Posole/Pozole: a thick stew made with hominy corn, it is simmered for hours with pork and chile plus other vegetables such as onions and garlic. Both red and green chile versions exist.
- Quince cheese: a sweet, thick, quince jelly or quince candy.
- Frijoles refritos: refried beans.
- Salsa: generally an uncooked mixture of chiles/peppers, tomatoes, onions, and frequently blended or mixed with tomato paste to produce a more sauce-like texture than pico de gallo; usually contains vinegar in noticeable quantities (contrast chile and pico de gallo). The green chile variant usually uses cooked tomatillos instead of tomatoes or omits both, and does not use avocado (which is very common in California green salsa). The New Mexico and California styles share a typically large amount of cilantro added to the mix. The word simply means "sauce" in Spanish.
- Salsa picante or picante sauce: A thin, vinegary, piquant (thus its name) sauce of pureéd red peppers and tomatoes with spices, it is reminiscent of a combination of New Mexico-style chile sauce and Louisiana-style tabasco pepper sauce. (Note: American commercial food producers have appropriated the term to refer simply to spicy packaged salsa). Picante's place in Mexican, Tex-Mex and Californian food, where it is extremely common, especially as a final condiment to add more heat, has largely been supplanted by chile, especially red chile, in New Mexican cuisine.
- Sopaipilla ("little pillows"): a puffed, fried bread, it is eaten split or with a corner bitten off and filled with honey or sometimes honey-butter (as accompaniment in place of tortillas, or as a dessert), or sometimes stuffed with meat, beans, cheese and chile sauce. Traditionally (and still in the north), it is served with soups (sopa in Spanish) like posole and menudo; today, sopaipillas are sometimes found stuffed (like burritos), and are almost universally served as a dessert with honey.
- Taco: a corn tortilla fried into a trough shape, it is filled with meats, cheese, or beans, and fresh chopped lettuce, onions, tomatoes and cheese. The term also refers to the soft, rolled flour tortilla variety, which originated in Mexico. However, corn tortillas for tacos are always fried in New Mexican cuisine.
- Tamal (properly tamal in Spanish; plural tamales): meat rolled in cornmeal dough, wrapped traditionally in corn husks (paper is more common today), and steamed, it is served most often with red chile sauce. New Mexican tamales typically vary from other tamal styles in that red chile powder is almost always blended into the masa.
- Taquito or taquita: a tightly rolled, deep-fried variant of the taco, in contrast to chimichangas and flautas
- Tortilla: a flatbread made predominantly either of unbleached white wheat flour or of cornmeal. New Mexico-style flour tortillas are typically thicker and less chewy than those found in, for instance, Texas or California. This results from the lower-protein, more cake-like flour commonly available in New Mexico. New Mexican expatriates who travel back to the state for visits will often bring an extra carry-on to fill with New Mexico tortillas and frozen green chile.
- Tortilla con chile a snack consisting of a roasted New Mexico green chile on a flour tortilla, sometimes seasoned with garlic salt.
- Tostada: a corn tortilla is fried flat, and covered with meat, lettuce and cheese to make an open-faced taco.
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- Frommer's National Parks of the American West (2012). John Wiley.
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- Feske, Esther. License to Cook New Mexico Style, Penfield Press, 1988, p. 5
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