What’s next and where am I going? What will I experience and who will experience it with me? It’s always easy to look forward. Its exciting, unknown and foreign. But in life, it’s also important to look back, to remember where we came from and what made us who we are. New Mexico is my past, but it is also something I bring with me everywhere I go.
The Land of Enchantment has always been good to me. It represents home. New Mexico, put simply, is a land of contradictions. Blisteringly hot in the summers and frigidly cold in the winter. Multicolored watercolor like sunsets fill the sky over the monotone brown desert floor. The kindest, most genuine people you have ever met living in a state plagued by senseless hate and violence. New Mexico represents the epitome of cultural mixing; Spanish, Mexican, and Native American influences have transformed the land and its people into a cultural hodgepodge, creating some of the world’s best art, architecture and food.
While each facet of New Mexican culture is beautiful and unique in its own way, I am gonna focus on the good stuff, the cuisine that made me fall in love with food. A cuisine so good, it soothes the weary soul. It’s the first thing I look forward to when I come home and the last thing I grab on my way back out of the state.
Now let’s get some things straight.
New Mexican food is NOT Mexican food, it is NOT Tex Mex. People may try and convince you of this, but seriously, those people are wrong. It is its own unique blend of the food of Spanish settlers and Native Americans, mixed with a splash of Americana. New Mexican put simply has three components. If it is lacking any one of these items, send it back, because they aren’t doing it right. These components, the trinity of New Mexican cuisine are as follows:
Chile represents New Mexico. It is the lifeblood of our state. The common bond that all new Mexicans share and something that every New Mexican not only appreciates but loves as well. The most debated state question is simply “red or green” and we are not talking about Christmas. The pepper, itself, only comes from New Mexico and is the one defining factor of the cuisine itself. With its spicy and smoky flavor and the New Mexico chile is the unique stamp of approval for any New Mexican dish. It’s addictive, coming in green and red varieties. The green variety is a sauce but also a main event, combing roasted green Hatch chile peppers with garlic, oregano and other spices, creating a spicy, smoky and hearty topping for any dish. The other variety, red, is comprised of dried red hatch chiles, re-hydrated and then blended to velvety perfect. The awesome thing about chile is that no two places use the same recipe and none are alike. The debate over which restaurant boasts the best recipe is still up in the air, and most likely will never be resolved.
Rice and Beans
What can I say about rice and beans. They are simply and utterly the perfect combination. Rice and beans represent sustenance. A side dish loved and revered by every Latin American country all around the world. It is a time tested combination that fills the plates of New Mexicans and Latinos alike. Rice and beans are like a long term relationship, something consistent, tried and true. They are that comforting, something you kind of forget about but in their absence, be lost without. The thing about rice and beans is that when a restaurant really goes the extra mile to amp them up, something absolutely delicious follows. Imagine delicious, crispy Mexican style red rice with cilantro and jalapeno stewed pinto beans. Get away from the can of refrieds man!
The Side Salad
This is a weird one, and for no reason, I mean NO reason, should it represent New Mexican food. But it does. The side salad is ridiculous, merely a small portion of shredded lettuce and a slice of tomato tucked along side or under all this delicious food. Why are you there salad! Nobody ordered you! It is such an oddity, an unnecessary facet of New Mexican food culture that keeps rearing its ugly head on my plate. While I understand its trivial function and the fact that its completely useless, it simply wouldn’t be a true plate of New Mexican food without it. And I stand by that.
While the trinity make up the baseline of New Mexican cuisine, throughout a series of blog posts, I will explore the unique and delightful dishes that make up my home states cuisine.
VIVA NUEVO MEXICO!