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New Mexican Cuisine
The state of New Mexico loves chile peppers. New Mexicans hang strings of dried red chiles called ristras in front of their houses for decoration, good fortune, and a steady supply of cooking ingredients; the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (the largest hot air balloon event in the world) often features an enormous ristra-shaped balloon; local gift shops sell chile pepper curios in every conceivable configuration.
New Mexico is the largest grower of chile peppers in the United States, so it is not surprising that the New Mexico chile forms the basis for the state’s distinctive cuisine. Many items found on New Mexico menus may seem at first glance to be similar to well-known Mexican and southwestern dishes—enchiladas, tamales, fajitas, guacamole, chiles rellenos, huevos rancheros, burritos or tacos—but the use of chiles, in nearly everything but the desserts, sets New Mexican cuisine apart.
In other parts of the southwest, like Texas and Arizona, chile powders, created from crushed dried chiles, are used to create sauces by mixing them with chicken or beef broth and thickening them with flour if necessary. In New Mexico, fresh green or red chiles are simmered and naturally reduced to create an entirely different kind of sauce. The tendency in New Mexico in a cooked red chile sauce is not to add tomatoes. Chiles are an ingredient in New Mexico; elsewhere they act more as a condiment.
Even the salsa enjoyed in New Mexico with tortilla chips is a little different; it will more likely contain chopped Hatch chiles rather than the more common jalapeños. The one point in common New Mexico cuisine has with its neighbors is the use of flour and corn tortillas, produced by local factories in immense quantities.
Typical New Mexican specialties include:
New Mexico has a number of indigenous Native American pueblos and recognized tribes, as well as small rural communities that enjoy special status originally granted by the Spanish crown many centuries ago. Each of these communities has its own variety of posole, green chile stew, and all the other favorites.
It would be tempting to think that New Mexicans take occasional breaks from chile-based
eating, but even hot dogs and hamburgers may be served slathered with chile and served with
side orders of refried beans and guacamole. A number of high-end restaurants in the state’s
capital Santa Fe make liberal use of the traditional ingredients in their contemporary
American fusion offerings. Among top-level contemporary American chefs even outside of
the state, New Mexico chiles are highly prized.
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