With all good things comes both commonality and uniqueness. A taxicab driver in Manhattan and a Masai warrior in Kenya can both be watching the full moon rise, and yet geography and culture lend themselves to a different experience.
So it goes with New Mexican cuisine. Influenced by Spanish, Mediterranean, Mexican, Pueblo Native American and Cowboy Chuckwagon cultures (according to Clyde Casey in the 1994 issue of New Mexico Cooking), much of New Mexico’s food bears a common resemblance to other dishes found throughout the world. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that the New Mexico chile is a ubiquitous staple, garnishing almost every dish imaginable, from burritos to bagels, huevos rancheros to hamburgers, and pizza to posole.
It should come as no surprise then that the chile is New Mexico’s largest agricultural crop, and can be green or red, depending on when they’re picked (hint: green is hotter than red!). In fact, New Mexico is the only state with an official question – “Red or green?” And in 1983, the official spelling of ‘chile’ was entered into the U.S. Congressional record, with the state senator calling it a “magical and life-giving fruit.”
In addition to chiles, New Mexican gastronomy includes copious amounts of shredded iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, as well as sopaipillas dripping with honey. What is largely absent is the Tex-Mex use of sour cream, and the Cal-Mex use of guacamole. This is because of early lack of refrigeration in New Mexico, and the fact that avocados can’t be grown naturally in the southwestern dessert climate.
Another staple to the New Mexican diet is the tortilla. The bread of choice for New Mexicans, it can be slathered with peanut butter, or drizzled with melted cheese. Even chocolate sauce is used as a common topping on this thick and chewy flour flatbread. Beans and corn or papas (fried potatoes) and calabacitas (mixture of squash, onions and spices) complete the basic ingredients of New Mexican cuisine, providing basic nutrition and a delicious addition to chile sauce of any kind!
And these, my friends, are all good (and tasty) things!