Ask any New Mexican what makes the food here so special, and they’ll tell you the same thing: the chile. Get your taste buds in gear, folks, ‘cause you’ll need every single one of them to fully appreciate the sweet, fruity, fiery flavor of red and green chile.
Why chiles? Why here? In the 1500s, when Spanish and Mexican settlers first came up through the Rio Grande Valley into what is now New Mexico, they brought with them some familiar foods from home. Mexican settlers who migrated north brought with them some new varieties of chile peppers. Now peppers thrive all over the state, enjoying hot, sunny days and cool nights.
Roasted and peeled chiles are eaten in large pieces, draped over a cheeseburger or tucked into a breakfast burrito, but more commonly, they are chopped and cooked into a sauce that is ladled over enchiladas, chiles rellenos or burritos. The sauce can be thin or thick, made with meat or vegetarian. There are a zillion variations.
Allowed to remain on the plant a little longer, those same green chiles will eventually turn red. Occasionally the pods are crushed into flakes or powder, but most use the whole pods to make a velvety smooth red chile sauce. The pods are toasted before being simmered in water, pureed, then sautéed with garlic and sometimes a little Mexican oregano. (Yes, it’s a different variety.)
Green and red chile show up in nearly everything eaten here, from salsas and tacos to cakes and pies.
Albuquerque also offers authentic Native American cuisine. The Pueblo Indians have long depended on a diet of three major foods: corn, beans and squash. Corn is used not only for tortillas and tamales, but also (in the form you may know as hominy) in posole, a stew made with broth, chile, meat and corn. You’ll find pinto beans served refried, but some cooks like to serve them perfectly al dente, in a savory broth. Squash shows up in a favorite side dish, calabacitas, a sauté of summer squash with fresh corn kernels and chopped green chile.
But nobody can resist an Indian taco. First, forget what you know about tacos; this is an entirely different beast. The base of the taco is frybread, a large disk of deep-fried dough. Frybread is a treat on its own, and, served with honey, it’s a sweet treat. But the Indian taco is all savory, topped with whole pinto beans, ground beef, chile, cheese, lettuce, onions and tomatoes.
Find more food options in Albuquerque, NM.