Green Chile, Georgia O’Keeffe and The Land of Enchantment

“New Mexico”, from the album “New Mexico”, Bob Forbes, 2010

click above to play

Roasting Hatch green chile

Roasting Hatch green chile

If you have never had the privilege of smelling fresh green chile roasting, you have been deprived. When I moved to New Mexico in 1994, I considered myself to have fairly diverse tastes, and moving from cosmopolitan Toronto, Canada, where just about every ‘ethnic’ food could be sampled, I had tasted a fair number of chiles: Cayenne, Thai, Serrano, Jalapeno, Tabasco, even Scotch Bonnet. There were plenty of Mexican and ‘Tex-Mex’ restaurants (or wanna-bes) in Toronto at the time, but to my knowledge, no New Mexican restaurant. I had limited experience with Southwest food, and to my recollection, had never eaten any green chile.

After nearly 20 years of living in Albuquerque, I have learned that when the pods of the Silk trees start to rustle and the Hummingbirds start flying to Mexico for the winter, it is green chile roasting time! And what a delicious and captivating smell it is. My first whiff of it was at a local farm market. Huge burlap sacks of green chile were sold (roasting fee included), and the contents of the entire sack were dumped into a circular mesh basket, continuously rotated by hand over high flame fueled by propane tanks. As the skins of the chile started to char and hiss, the air was permeated with this delicious, difficult to describe perfume. I’ve been addicted ever since to the smell…and the taste is even better! After charring, chiles are usually steamed by enclosing them in a plastic or paper bag until they cool and develop ‘skin slippage’ (old term we used to use in Forensic Anthropology!). Then, judiciously, using gloves, the chiles are slit open, the seeds and the membranes are scraped out and the skin is removed: the result is the most delicious roasted chile.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico – Photograph by Sue Jimenez

The state vegetable of New Mexico is the chile. Hatch, New Mexico, down in the southern part of the state is the Chile capital of the world and new and hybrid varieties of chile are being developed continually by horticulturists at New Mexico State University. Current research and experiments at their Chile Pepper Institute suggest that the Trinidad Scorpion Morgua Blend pepper is the world’s hottest chili pepper grown on earth, pushing over 2,000,000 heat units on the Scoville scale. (a typical Jalapeno is 2,500 to 8,000 units!)

El Malpais, New Mexico

El Malpais, New Mexico – Photograph by Sue Jimenez

Green chiles are unripe red chiles, while red chiles have been allowed to ripen on the plants. In New Mexico, when one orders a dish with chiles in it, it is customary for the server to ask the diner the question, ‘Red or Green?’. You can always tell the tourists, when you overhear their reply, ‘Excuse me?’ Really savvy New Mexicans might also ask for ‘Christmas’, meaning a little green and a little red.

For many reasons, New Mexico is known as ‘The Land of Enchantment’ (it must be: it says so on my license plate). It is a state of contradictions: there are seven ‘life zones’ in the world and New Mexico has six of them, classified by vegetation types, altitude and orientation to the sun. In New Mexico, they range from the Lower Sonoran right up to the Arctic Zone! Most populated places like Albuquerque and Las Cruces receive less than 10 inches of precipitation annually (that’s everything: rain, hail, snow).

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico – Photograph by Sue Jimenez

Shiprock, New Mexico

Shiprock, New Mexico – Photograph by Sue Jimenez

The geology of the landscape is spectacular: from the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument to snow capped mountain peaks, the deserts and hoodoos of the De Na Zin and Bisti Wilderness, Carlsbad Caverns, and much more, it is no wonder that artist Georgia O’Keeffe, after having fallen in love with New Mexico and spending some time at Ghost Ranch, in the 1940’s, purchased a home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. It was there that she maintained a large vegetable garden, including green chiles.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico – Photograph by Sue Jimenez

USPS Stamp - Georgia O'Keeffe

USPS Stamp – Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico, painted by Georgia O’Keeffe

Just about any cookbook with New Mexican recipes features a variety of recipes: Green Chile Sauce, Green Chile Stew, Green Chile Chutney, Green Chile Jelly, Chile Fritters, Green Chile Rellenos, even Green Chile (and Red Chile) Wine….definitely a must try!

'A Painter's Kitchen' by Margaret Wood

‘A Painter’s Kitchen’ by Margaret Wood

Margaret Wood, author of ‘A Painter’s Kitchen, published in 2009 by the Museum of New Mexico Press, met Georgia O’Keeffe when she was 90 and the author was 24. As a companion to Ms. O’Keeffe, she cooked many meals for the artist, many of which were developed from Ms. O’Keeffe, or adapted per Ms. Okeeffe’s instructions. Of course, there were several recipes using the wonderful New Mexico green chile. Below is her recipe for Green Chile Sauce, which can be used over almost anything: Huevos Rancheros, Enchiladas, Tortillas, etc.

Green Chile Sauce

1 pound fresh green chiles
1 tablespoon butter or oil
½ onion, chopped fine
2 cups homemade chicken broth (or high quality canned broth)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon flour or cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water

Roast the green chiles in the broiler or over a grill so that the thin outside skin begins to blister and turn black in places. Put the chiles in a covered pan, or inside wet paper towels, so that the skin will loosen easily from the flesh. After 10 to 15 minutes, peel the skin from chiles (my note: wear rubber gloves or disposable gloves to do this or you will regret it later!). Remove the tough tops and stems, and the seeds and veins (the seeds and veins tend to be the hottest parts of the chile). Chop the chiles into small pieces. Note: be very careful not to rub your eyes after handling chiles.

In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter/oil. When the butter is hot, add the onion and sauté until transparent. Then add the chicken broth, green chile, and garlic. When the broth is hot, add the cornstarch or flour-and-water thickener and stir while the sauce thickens.


Please share your stories of green chile and New Mexico !

Cabazon Peak, New Mexico

Cabazon Peak, New Mexico – Photograph by Sue Jimenez

About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,500. What next? More shelves?
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3 Responses to Green Chile, Georgia O’Keeffe and The Land of Enchantment

  1. Hi. This is the first mention I’ve had in any of my posts, with script running off the screen, so I suspect it might be your browser. If anyone else is seeing this problem, please let me know.

  2. SEO says:

    I do not know if it’s just me or if everyone else experiencing problems
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  3. I enjoyed this very much. New Mexico is like a second home for me. 🙂

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