“There is…(a) time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.”—Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
What’s your very first clue autumn is coming?
Is it seeing store window mannequins clothed in wool while you’re still in shorts?
Is it the trees changing color?
In much of New Mexico where mild weather reigns year-round, that system of tracking the seasons through changing fashions or leaf colors no longer works.
Especially in those places where there are no trees.
Now as to seasonal changes in food . . . that’s a different story.
In the middle of chile harvest season, you know autumn is on the way by the signs advertising FRESHly roasted FRESH chile.
Such signs are posted EVERYWHERE inviting you to enjoy green chile in EVERYTHING including soups, sauces, even ice-cream toppings.
How this single green vegetable can transform a dish from merely southwestern to New Mexican will amaze you.
Yet fresh quick-roasted chile peppers and the products made with them aren’t the only foods you’ll see more of all over New Mexico this time of year.
What else will you find in the essential New Mexico food basket?
Late summer through mid-fall brings harvests of walnuts, bolita beans, and berries (in the North).
Then you’ve got delicious pistachios and New Mexico piñones (pine nuts) ~ a milder-tasting variety than the pine nuts that grow in Arizona.
QUESTION: What happens when these seasonal ingredients get together with traditional favorite dishes like breakfast burritos, posole stew, and sopapillas?
ANSWER: They set the food of New Mexico, both southern and northern, apart from other regional cuisines to stand on their own.
Granted, we’ve hundreds of years of material to draw upon: the cultivation of bolita beans goes back to the 1500s, that of piñones goes back centuries further.
No surprise, the chefs who respect and know what to do with these foods operate the most talked about restaurants in their communities. Here are two you’ll want to visit in your travels, from New Mexico central to south:
The city of Albuquerque is blessed. Chef Jonathan Perno is a native New Mexican and believer in Slow Food.
He trained with top-of-the-line chefs, including Wolfgang Puck, throughout the West before working for a time in Europe. Back in the Land of Enchantment, he is now the executive chef at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm.
So Los Poblanos is where diners can enjoy fresh and locally-sourced dishes like an Artisanal Cheese plate featuring green chile jelly or a chile relleno filled with cheese quinoa and bolita beans and more.
There’s no escaping it. In New Mexico, CHILES are BIG all over. And Chef Perno believes everyone ought to try them:
Experience something hotter than you think you’d normally like. It’s a different heat. People get hooked on chiles — they’re like crack.
22 years in chemical engineering . . . Oscar Ibave’s path to his current role as co-owner and chef at the Paisano Cafe in Mesilla was not a typical one.
It was an effective path, though. He traveled widely and often during those 22 years, eating as he went:
I’ve tasted from this place and tasted something else from another place.
The result was a cooking style that Paisano Cafe’s many raving fans have a hard time describing: “It’s Mexican food, but it’s not . . . guess it’s new fangled-Mexican with a little Italian . . . some Spanish . . . maybe it’s New Mexican . . . whatever, it’s really good, you gotta go!”
Ibave’s brand of New Mexican is how, in a single meal at Paisano Cafe, you can enjoy:
~ a southwestern classic like Chiles en Nogada, a Poblano pepper stuffed with ground beef, raisins, the pecans and piñones specific to the region, topped with a sweet walnut sauce ~
AND salsa and chips with neither red or green salsa as New Mexico norms dictate but a golden ranch. This complimentary side dish served with the lightest tortilla chips ever created is among the most popular at Paisano Cafe: a tasty and surprising zig where so many others zag.
- Next time you’re prepping for a favorite meal using pinto beans, swap them out for bolita beans instead. The pinto shares status as New Mexico state vegetable with the chile. However, you may discover a new favorite bean in the creamier, faster-cooking bolita. new taste Enjoy these beans, available at Schwebach Farm, as a distinctly Northern New Mexican experience.
- Make a meal at one of the great restaurants mentioned here ~ Los Poblanos and Paisano Cafe ~ part of your upcoming visit to the American Southwest.
Feature image, Various Chili Peppers by AZP Worldwide; Southwest House Details by sumikophoto; Chicharrones @Bar Alfalfa by Amaya Rodrigo; and Basket of Chile Peppers by Whispers.