Green Chile Believer – Food Thoughts

New Mexicans have their own mantra for treating the common cold: drink lots of fluids, get lots of rest, and eat lots of green chile.  Didn’t find that last thing on the Mayo Clinic web site? Someone should fix that.  

IMAG0803Therapeutic properties aside, there remain countless gustatory reasons to eat green chile (Capsicum annuum), the defining ingredient in New Mexican cuisine.  Similar in appearance to Anaheim and poblano chiles, New Mexico green chiles are hotter with more complex flavors.  Within the state, natives heap it over eggs, onto pizza and into stews.  You can even order a green chile cheeseburger at McDonalds, though longtime locals hit Blake’s Lottaburger, recognized by National Geographic in their 2006 article: Passport to the Best. [1]  Really though, the best place to find green chile is inside a freshly-rolled flour tortilla, hot off a wood-burning cook stove in a tiny stucco house at the end of dirt road outside Cebolla, NM.  Just the tortilla and the chile.  Nothing like it.

If you think “Chile is chile, so what?” then you have not tasted green chile from Hatch, New Mexico, home of the Hatch Chile Festival.  During this two day event, the town (population: 1639) has hosted up to 30,000 people. [2] If you found your sampling of green chile unexceptional, you may have ingested fake New Mexico green chile.  “What we’ve got is people coming in and selling chile and saying it’s from New Mexico, and some of it is being shipped in from Mexico or elsewhere,” said State Representative Andy Nuñez, sponsor of the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act.

esq-Roasting-the-green-chilesFolks from out of state with friends or family in New Mexico can export authentic Hatch green chiles in airline luggage.  To prepare green chiles for transport, my mom buys and freezes the peppers every September, when fresh chiles arrive in local grocery stores and street corner stands.  Street vendors will fire-roast chiles in rotating screened bins for a nominal fee. It’s quick and cheap and yields perfectly charred, smoky peppers.  Once roasted, the peppers collapse, like the water-doused wicked witch of the west, minimizing their volume.  Most DIYer’s and commercial companies do not peel whole pods before freezing. My mom tucks the flavorsome babies into quart-sized plastic bags, labels with relative temperament (hot, medium or mild) and lets them rest in the freezer.  To ready the peppers for flight, she bundles the frozen chile bags with freeze-packs in thick layers of newspaper, which I further insulate in laundry from my always-too-short visit.  Albuquerque TSA has seen this a million times.

calabacitasAnd what to do once you get them home?  Prior to cooking or just plain eating them, run lukewarm water over the frozen pod.  This defrosts the skin, but leaves the meat firm.  With a little tactile encouragement the skin falls away.  (Take care not to rub your eyes during this process – yeow!)  Once peeled, chile possibilities span every meal of the day.  Breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, quiche… pretty much any egg dish.  Most “Mexican” dishes: chicken enchiladas, tacos, tostadas.  The Santa Fe School of Cooking offers its version of Green Chile Stew [5].  Vegetable side dishes hosting green chile include quelites (spinach) and calabacitas (squash).  Until I left New Mexico, I had no idea people made guacamole without green chile.

While a virus hijacks my normally fine health, I research the finer points of green chile to learn that chile peppers are packed with vitamins C and A (as beta-carotene), as well as potassium, iron, and fiber.  That may explain why people claim green chile fights the common cold.  I’m heading for the freezer.  Good things come to those who believe.

[1]  “National Geographic Passport to the Best, The 10 Best of Everything”. National Geographic. 2006-03-21.

[2],_New_Mexico viewed 01/08/14.

[3]  viewed 01/09/14.

[4] viewed 01/09/14.

[5] viewed 01/09/14

photo basket of chiles

photo street vendor roasters

photo calabacitas


1 thought on “Green Chile Believer – Food Thoughts

  1. My favorite line in your beautiful writing: “Once roasted, the peppers collapse, like the water-doused wicked witch of the west, minimizing their volume.”


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