Cuisine of the Southwestern United States

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A pot of chili con carne with beans and tomatoes

The cuisine of the Southwestern United States is food styled after the rustic cooking of the Southwestern United States. It comprises a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by Spanish colonial settlers, cowboys, Native Americans,[1] and Mexicans throughout the post-Columbian era; there is, however, a great diversity in this kind of cuisine throughout the Southwestern states.[citation needed]

Southwestern cuisine is similar to Mexican cuisine but often involves larger cuts of meat, namely pork and beef, and less use of tripe, brain, and other parts not considered as desirable in the United States.

As with Mexican cuisine, Southwestern cuisine is also largely known for its use of spices (particularly the chile, or chili pepper). Recently, several chains of casual dining restaurants specializing in Southwestern cuisine have become popular in the United States.

New Mexican cuisine is the most popular in the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Northern Arizona, Southern Nevada and Utah. It is known for its dedication to the New Mexico chile, the majority of the crop is grown in Hatch, New Mexico. Part of New Mexican cuisine is smothering each dish with either red chile, green chile or both (mixing of both is referred to as "Christmas"), and usage of pork or beef. Beyond just chile it also includes flavors such as piñon, and dishes such as breakfast burritos, biscochitos, and sopapillas.

Texan cuisine has a Southwestern cuisine called Tex-Mex, while Arizona's style of Southwestern cuisine is often called Sonoran, since the Sonoran Desert covers a third of the state.

History[edit]

When New Mexico was still part of the New Spain and the Republic of Mexico, regional ingredients were more limited, with few imports supplementing locally grown food. This gave New Mexican cuisine its unique palate.

All cooking was done at home by women who toasted whole spices and ground corn by hand using metates. Hunters made "jerky", in the style of New Mexican carne seca, with game meats, fish and wild birds. Fruits and vegetables were sun-dried in preparation for the winter.

Food was slow-cooked in iron or copper pots over open fires, and the only imported items were non-perishables from New Spain—coffee, sugar and spices.

The expansion of the railway system allowed the importation of milled flour and corn meal, sugar, lemons, oranges and other ingredients from "the States".[clarification needed]

Traditional ways of cooking were eventually replaced by iron stoves. The basic chile, beans and corn dishes from Mexican cuisine evolved over time and in modern form often substitute extremely hot peppers and condiments for the subtle, balanced spicing of authentic Mexican cuisine. Native Americans and Hispanos developed the earliest forms of the New Mexico chile to supplement this taste.

By the early 20th-century tostadas, "chile joints" and home-cooked "chile suppers" and tamale vendors had become part of the cultural landscape.[2]

Characteristics[edit]

The staple ingredients of Southwestern cuisine are corn, squash and beans. Called the "three sisters", they have been staples of North-American agriculture since ancient times. Beans are served whole or refried, and both styles can be used as filling for tostadas, tacos, burritos and similar dishes. Many bean varieties are consumed but the pinto bean is the most iconic bean of southwestern cuisine.[3]

Southwestern food is distinguished by the use of chile peppers as the primary seasoning, first brought to Santa Fe with the arrival of the Spanish from Mexico.

Chile peppers are used as a topping for virtually every dish from pizza to bagels, or just fried tempura and eaten whole. Most dishes, from burritos to scrambled eggs, are served with plentiful amounts of chile sauce.[3]

States[edit]

Arizona[edit]

A Sonoran hot dog topped with pinto beans and tomatoes

The cuisine of Arizona is influenced by its location and proximity to Mexico and reflects a blend of Hispanic, Native-American and pioneer culinary traditions. The O'odham peoples cultivated crops like maize and tepary beans around the Sonoran Desert area located at the base of the Tucson Mountains.[4]

Local dishes include raspado, huevos rancheros and tamales. The Sonoran hot dog is an Arizona specialty served with pinto beans, guacamole, jalapeños, salsa and layered with other southwestern flavors.[5]

Tucson, Arizona became the first American city to receive the designation of "City of Gastronomy" by UNESCO.

Restaurants use local ingredients, many grown with heirloom seeds distributed by non-profit organizations like Native Seeds/SEARCH.[4] Salads and salsas are made with cholla cactus, gathered and dried at the San Xavier Indian Reservation.[6]

Colorado[edit]

Nevada[edit]

The indigenous cuisine of Nevada is mainly New Mexican as well as Utah influenced Mormon foodways. With some California influences. It is also greatly influenced by the myriad of buffets and global restaurants in the Las Vegas Valley area.

Other foods such as Basque cuisine also have a presence in the area, with many Basque restaurants in the area of Las Vegas and a Basque festival in Elko. Originally invented in California, Picon Punch is a signature drink not often found outside Nevada in modern times.[7]

New Mexico[edit]

The most prevalent cuisine type of New Mexico is that of the cuisine originating in the historical region of Santa Fe de Nuevo México. The modern New Mexican cuisine is a fusion the cuisine of the Puebloans and Hispanos of New Mexico.

Texas[edit]

Tex-Mex cuisine was first created from the early Tejano people in Texas. This type of southwestern cuisine is heavy in cheese, beans, and meat. Dishes include heavy usage of the Chiltepin pepper. Popular dishes include enchiladas, King Ranch casserole, menudo, and chili con carne.

Utah[edit]

Fry sauce with french fries at a restaurant in Utah

Potatoes were the first crop planted by the pioneers when they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 with seeds from the eastern states. According to William Clayton the first settlers in Utah also planted turnips, oats, corn, buckwheat and beans. Peach pits and apple seeds were planted at the insistence of Brigham Young.

Veterans of the Mexican–American War brought back seeds from California, introducing club wheat and the California pea to the state.[8]

In modern times Utah is not noted for its culinary traditions except its fry sauce, a mix of ketchup and mayonnaise that is served with nearly everything.[9]

Southwestern dishes[edit]

Cactus fries with a side of prickly pear sauce
A burrito with red chile, often referred to as a "smothered burrito"

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Native Americans." (cached version). Ed101.bu.edu Archived 2011-08-24 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed July 2011.
  2. ^ Fergusson, Erna (1934). Mexican Cookbook. University of New Mexico Press.
  3. ^ a b "A Cheat Sheet to Southwestern Food". Eater.
  4. ^ a b "What Makes Tucson Deserving of the Title of the United States' First Capital of Gastronomy". Smithsonian Magazine.
  5. ^ Mercuri, Becky (2007). The Great American Hot Dog Book:Recipes and Side Dishes from Across America. Gibbs Smith. p. 115.
  6. ^ "Tucson Becomes an Unlikely Food Star". The New York Times. August 23, 2016.
  7. ^ "The origin of the Picon punch, a quintessential Western cocktail". Reno Gazette-Journal. August 10, 2017.
  8. ^ Cheney, Brock. Plain by Wholesome: Foodways of the Mormon Pioneers. University of Utah Press. p. 26.
  9. ^ "Utah ranks 47th for states with the best food scenes, travel site says". KUTV. November 6, 2020.

Further reading[edit]