Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Land of Chile

I live in New Mexico, not only known as "The Land of Enchantment," but as I am sure any New Mexican would agree, it is also the Land of Chile. That's chile with an "e," not an "i." Chili is what most people are familiar with, the stew-like food made of various peppers, meats, beans, etc. Chile refers to the peppers, which are a huge part of New Mexican cuisine. The best peppers and most popular are from Hatch, New Mexico, which is in the southern part of the state. They harvest them in late summer and at every grocery store in the state you will see big roasters outside. Most people buy them by the bushel and have them roasted, which softens them and gives them a delicious flavor. Then they bring them home and freeze them so that they can use them throughout the year for enchiladas, rellenos, salsa, or to add to a burger or hot dog (really, it's good in so many things)!

It's difficult for non-New Mexicans to understand the the whole chile obsession, but if you move here or spend any significant amount of time in the state, you will most likely be converted, as I was when I originally moved here over seven years ago. The problem is, once you're converted, it's very difficult to live without it. The first time I moved to New Mexico, I lived in Las Cruces for three years then moved back to Lubbock, TX. While Lubbock is only a couple of hours from the New Mexico border, they did not have green chile (in the quantity I desired with the option of having them roasted). I was so distraught imagining a year without my chile, that I drove two hours away to Clovis, NM to buy some (crazy, I know). Our third year in Lubbock, the wise folks of West Texas finally came to their senses and began selling and roasting Hatch green chile. My dreams had come true. And the following year we moved to Albuquerque, where I would never lack my beloved pepper. In fact, I even bought a deep freezer this year so that I would have plenty of room to store them. I know, it's a little crazy. Although, I have to admit, a deep freezer comes in handy for storing many things, and if you have seen the movie Bernie you might be thinking of other things that some might store in their deep freezer (side note: this is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time, if you haven't seen it, DO IT!).

I know now you can find fresh Hatch chiles many places throughout the country, especially in the southwest, and most likely in many larger cities in other regions as well. However, if you are not so lucky, most grocery stores at least have the canned version, and if you can find the canned Hatch chiles, chose those over other brands (trust me, I have experience here).

Last night I used our plethora of peppers to make The Pioneer Woman's Lazy Chiles Rellenos. This is not the traditional way of making rellenos, which usually involves stuffing the pepper and frying it, but it is a tasty and much less time-consuming alternative. As she mentions in her post, she is not lucky enough to have the access to fresh green chiles that I do, so she makes hers with canned chiles. I used mine from our freezer, but other than that I followed the recipe. She said to cook 30-40 minutes, I had to do 40, which may have been my oven (which is older than me), the altitude, or something else altogether. I served mine with flour tortillas because it was all I had on hand, and some black beans.

It was really delicious, Josh and I both liked it. I bought the hot chiles this year (you can buy them in mild, medium, or hot), and they were super spicy! When I have made enchiladas with them, they were almost too hot, but I liked this recipe because I think the milk and eggs helped mellow them out a little, yet they still had a kick. When I had the leftovers for lunch today, I bought some tortilla chips and those were really tasty with them. I think it might also be good to fry tortilla strips and bake them on top of the rellenos. I may try that next time. That way it also has the crunch that traditional rellenos would.

All in all, this was a great recipe, easy, inexpensive, and I was able to prepare it ahead of time, then throw it in the oven that night. It would be great for when you have company or would like to bring someone a meal.

So give this recipe a try, and if you are not from New Mexico but might find yourself visiting here someday, EAT CHILE! You'll be happy you did!

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