Albuquerque, New Mexico, is an international center of hot air ballooning and boasts a sizeable population feverishly devoted to the Argentine tango, but it’s also a culinary destination rich in traditional Southwest dishes as well as farm-to-table foods.
Red and green chilies, the official state vegetable, define traditional New Mexican cuisine. They’re found in an abundance of dishes, from breakfast burritos and hamburgers to chocolate fudge and chicken stew. There’s even green chili wine!
While many of the state’s wineries are attempting to infuse their wine with chili and fruit, Milagro, Gruet and Casa Rondeña focus on producing more traditional blends. In Albuquerque, Casa Rondeña makes Serenade, a fruity blend of Riesling and Gewürztraminer. This off-dry wine deftly counterbalances the chili heat of many native dishes.
Locals, such as Jimmy Wagner of Wagner’s Farm in nearby Corrales, say they eat chilies with nearly every meal. At Wagner’s family farm, open since 1910, visitors during the fall chili harvest can watch—and smell—chilies roasting outdoors and buy fresh local produce, such as tomatoes, okra, onions and sweet corn.
On a sweeter note, one of only two states with an official state cookie, New Mexico loves its biscochitos—a round shortbread cookie lightly flavored with cinnamon and anise. Albuquerque’s historic Hotel Andaluz sends its guests off to bed with the sweet treat on their pillows (recipe below).
At another culinary destination, the Grove Café and Market focuses on local and organic produce by a burgeoning number of small farmers: Chef/owner Jason Greene’s menus celebrate seasonal fruits and vegetables, artisan bread, free-range eggs and natural, preservative-free meats. His BLT, bursting with sweet tomato jam (recipe below), is an excellent breakfast or lunch.
El Pinto Restaurant’s Green Chile Stew
3 cups red potatoes, in ½-inch cubes
1 tablepsoon vegetable oil
1 pound chicken tenders or breast meat, cut into ¼-inch pieces
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken broth
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1–1½ cups whole kernel corn
1 16-ounce green chili sauce jar, such as El Pinto
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Pre-cook potatoes in boiling water for 10 minutes, then cool. Heat oil in 1 gallon pot or larger. Add chicken and stir until completely cooked. Add flour and stir well, then add chicken broth and stir well, bringing to a boil. Add garlic, corn, green chili sauce and potatoes. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 8.
Biscochitos (From Hotel Andaluz, Albuquerque)
6 cups lard, chilled
4 cups granulated sugar
8 teaspoons anise seeds
16 cups all-purpose flour
8 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons brandy, apple juice, or milk
Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat lard and 1 cup sugar in a bowl until fluffy. Add eggs and anise seeds, and beat until very light and fluffy. Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add to creamed mixture along with the brandy. Mix thoroughly to make a stiff dough, refrigerate until chilled. Roll out dough between waxed paper to just under ¼ inch thickness, cut desired shape and bake for 10–12 minutes or until top of cookies are just firm. Cool before serving. Makes 100 cookies.
Grove Café and Market’s Tomato Jam
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped (mix of whole cherries and Romas)
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, toasted
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 serrano peppers, sliced very thin
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for 1½ hours until it has a thick, jam-like consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt or more lemon juice as needed. Cool completely. Makes 1 pint.