Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

A Chile Primer

A reader asked where he could purchase Christmas chiles. That was the way he phrased his question. While this person clearly is not from around these parts, he earns high praise for at least instinctively knowing New Mexico is the place to buy his chiles. He even spelled it the New Mexico way, chile not chili. Because he seems like a nice person, I will write my one and only piece on chiles.

First, I need to add the disclaimer that I am not an expert on the topic of chiles. I was raised in the East. I do  know I like them. A lot. I also believe the aroma of roasting chiles at the Farmers’ Market or from the roasting stands along the highways in late summer ranks right up there as one of the most sensuous fragrances known to man. I wish I had a smell-o-meter button to give you a whiff. You  need to come out here in between mid August and early September and inhale.

Christmas, often said in response to would you like red, green or Christmas on your breakfast burrito or enchillada, means a mixture of red chile sauce and green chile sauce. You might find the color of the two mixed together a bit off putting but the taste  is spectacular. Experiment. Ask the server to place some of each on either side of the plate. After you have tried each separately, create your own little Christmas holiday on the plate.

You need to understand that the topic of which is better,  red or green chile, is in and of itself literally a hot button topic for  passionate debate. It would take several books to even scratch the chile surface. While you are deciding red, green or Christmas, try chopped green chile in a grilled cheese sandwich, which is really a quesada if you melt the cheese in a tortilla instead of bread. Add red pepper flakes to stew for a little punch or ground green to sour cream for a dip. Buy whole chiles and make chile relenos. The chile is its own food group.

To finally answer the reader’s question, you can purchase nature’s treat  in many places. As I mentioned, freshly roasted chiles are in abundance at the farmers’ markets and along the roadsides here and there during the season. At least in the past, The Santa Fe School of Cooking has offered to mail out of state the freshly roasted variety. Many places in Hatch, New Mexico, will do so as well. The Santa Fe School of Cooking also has a shop in town and on line with a wide variety of dried and canned chiles. If you are ever near Chimayo, north of Santa Fe, stop by El Portrero Trading Post for their dried red and green Chimayo chiles. They will hand you some recipes with your purchase to get you started. The recipes alone are worth the trip.

Buyer beware, though. Chile is addictive. After awhile, your taste buds acquire a tolerance. More and more is required to get that original hit. But, oh, what a guilty pleasure, and it even comes in two colors.


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