Guest post by Ronda Jones
When you go to a New Mexico restaurant and order any of the famous food from New Mexico the waiter will often ask you “Red, Green, or Christmas?” Let me give you a hint: your answer is Christmas, always, no matter what. Why, you say? Because in New Mexico, when Christmas is on your plate you get to experience the two versions of chile pepper unique to New Mexico. And there are just no words to describe that flavor that has my mouth watering at my computer right now.
I am a child of New Mexico. The tumbleweeds, mesas and the wide expanses stretching out under a perfectly blue sky will always be a part of me. While the brochures and commercials will tell you about the rich variety of cultures and traditions, my memories revolve around the food.
History of New Mexican Chilies
First, is the green chile (one half of the Christmas party in the last paragraph). Primarily from the Hatch, New Mexico area, but found throughout New Mexico. It is the state flavor, and though it is a fruit it is officially the state vegetable.
One of my earliest memories is pulling up in the dusty driveway of my Papa’s fruit stand. The smell of the roasting green chile would hit us even before the car’s tires came to a crunching stop. When we got out, there was Papa, surrounded by ristras (hanging dried red chiles). And roasting that fragrant green chile in the biggest turning roaster I had ever seen in my life.
Green chile, in particular, is kind of an obsession in New Mexican culture. We had a neighbor from Chicago when I was little that said, frustrated, that we “put that (stuff) on everything!” Of course, she didn’t say “stuff”, but she was right. I’ve had it on pizza, burgers, eggs, and of course, enchiladas. And I think I might be tempted to try it in ice cream; I said tempted.
I would be remiss, though, if I failed to mention red chile. They really are the same plant, just at different maturation levels. But what a difference some maturity can make. Red chile has a much deeper earthy flavor and is often found in dried and powdered form. This is the form that my Grandma Grosso would use to make a sauce for her enchiladas, which originally required frying the corn tortillas (eek for the diet). This magic meal is so simple. I mean really it’s just a casserole (please don’t tell my mom I let that cat out of the bag), but it is amazing what alchemy happens when the tortillas, cheese, onions and meat, and finally chile come together in that dish. We have it every Christmas when everyone else is eating boring old ham and turkey. Yeah, it is that amazing.
History of Sopapillas
The famous foods of New Mexico reflect the many cultures that have etched their stories into that Land of Enchantment. For example, in my Mema’s house, we grew up with all of these cultures in every cookie, from chocolate chip to biscochitos, to some German cookies that I still don’t know the names of. Every culture that has gone into the history of New Mexico has gone into the food of New Mexico and melted into something absolutely amazing. Including what I think back on as one of my favorite restaurant foods from my childhood: the sopapilla.
The sopapilla is so extraordinarily versatile! There are other states that have sopapillas (ahem, Texas) but they just aren’t the same. It finds its roots in the Navajo fry bread, but the passage of time in New Mexico and the influences of Mexican, Spanish, Irish, and German cultures have made it into something that just isn’t the same anywhere else. They are fried and puffy and you can eat them as dessert, my favorite way, filled with honey or eat them as a main dish stuffed with ground beef or shredded chicken and cheese, and maybe corn and, of course, green chile cause, why not.
New Mexican food is my favorite comfort food. The state will always be a piece of my heart. And no matter where I live, there will always be a container of roasted and chopped green chile in my fridge, a container of dried red chile in my cabinet, and tortillas, lots of tortillas. Enjoy.
Famous Food From New Mexico Dinner Menu
New Mexico State Facts
- New Mexico was the 47th state in the US
- Five different states are visible from the top of Capulin Volcano
- New Mexico has more PhDs per capita than any other state
- Santa Fe is the highest capital in the U.S., sitting at 7,000 feet above sea level
- The city of Albuquerque is known as the hot air balloon capital of America
- Famous people from New Mexico include: Carolyn S. Shoemaker, John Denver, and Neil Patrick Harris
About the Author
Ronda was born in New Mexico and has lived in Oklahoma and Texas. She spends most of her days with her husband chasing down two very active, very entertaining, little boys. These three boys (including her husband) are the inspiration for her blog Speak Promise Mamma where she writes entertaining and hopeful reflections on real-life spirituality. You can read more of her writing at https://speakpromisemamma.com.
If this is the first state dinner you have enjoyed with us, check out our journey from the beginning, starting here.
Be sure to also take a look at our most recent recipes!