I grew up with very plain food that my mother prepared for our family. That was the norm in her home in so she had never developed a preference for more highly seasoned foods. There was never much more than salt and pepper on any of our meals. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered spicy foods and seasonings from other cultures.
Even though I grew up eating Mexican food, it was very bland. It wasn’t until I lived in Southern CA that I got my first really hot food and fell in love with the variety of flavors found in the more authentic dishes. Then The Artist and I went to Santa Fe and we discovered a whole new level of heat.
We rented a four-wheel drive and went out into the country to explore. We hiked the beautiful lands, relished the refreshing coolness of the Chama and Rio Grande rivers, watched incredible sunsets, saw “dry rain” for the first time and drove the Enchanted Circle around Taos. We met people who lived at the pueblos and got to talk to them about their culture and heritage. We ate their homemade breads and developed a passion for the local sage honey.
We discovered that sopapillas are served with honey because it helps cool the heat from the chiles. We learned to order our dishes “Christmas,” garnished with both green chile and red chile sauces. We fell in love with the brilliant blue skies highlighted with white clouds which were the background for the stunning brick-colored adobe buildings.
New Mexican foods are a delightful blend of the three cultures that settled and live in remarkable harmony in the region; Native American Indian, Mexican/Spanish and Anglo/English. There are Southwestern and Tex-Mex cuisines and then there is New Mexican cuisine. While similar in many ways, they are also quite different from one another. Some of the most defining characteristics of New Mexican cuisine are the abundant use of local New Mexican chiles, blue corn and the luscious sopapillas drizzled with local honey.
Whenever I have corn and chiles, like in today’s soup, it reminds me of our ten days in New Mexico and it warms my heart. Poblanos take on a smoky flavor when roasted. That smokiness makes them a perfect complement for the sweet corn flavor of this savory soup. If you were to have this soup in Santa Fe it would be most likely made with Hatch chiles, but they can be hard to find and poblanos are much more plentiful. If you want to add more heat you can add a minced jalapeno pepper.
From the first bite, I became addicted to blue corn tortillas and ordered them whenever they were on the menu. It is the one thing that I cannot replicate easily myself, but I do buy blue cornmeal from the Santa Fe School of Cooking for use in pancakes, tortillas and muffins like the ones below.
You can also substitute yellow or white cornmeal if you don’t want to order the blue cornmeal. If you do decide to place an order with the Santa Fe School of Cooking, make sure you wander around awhile and see everything they have to offer. They have a wonderful selection of chile peppers, both whole and ground, and if you are not sure what you want, they have a nice collection compiled so you can try them all.
The chowder and muffins are delightful together, but you can’t end there, you really need dessert! I have also included a recipe for the famous sopapillas. They are the local version of doughnuts, light, puffy pastries fried in hot oil and often dusted with sugar. If you happen to have a jar of the lovely sage honey, I would absolutely serve it alongside these heavenly morsels.
If you travel to Santa Fe and love cooking, you should take a class at the school. They do a wonderful job of explaining the history of the area, explain ingredients that may be new to you and teach you recipes that you can prepare for your family and friends when you get back home. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me and I know it will be for you too.
I love the Santa Fe/Taos area and if we had a choice, The Artist and I would move there. The people are lovely, the art community feeds my husband’s soul and the cuisines literally feed mine. Enjoy today’s taste of Santa Fe!
- 2 poblano peppers or Anaheim chilies
- 1 red bell pepper
- 2 or 3 Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup diced carrots
- 1/4 cup diced celery
- 1/2 tsp salt, divided
- 2-1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 4 ears corn) or frozen corn kernels, thawed
- 2 cups vegetable stock or chicken broth
- 1 cup 1% low-fat milk
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander)
- 2 tsp chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- Preheat a gas grill or broiler. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source.
- Arrange the poblano and bell peppers on the grill rack or on a broiler pan lined with aluminum foil. Grill or broil until the skins begin to blacken on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs.
- Transfer peppers to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam until the skins loosen, about 10 minutes. Peel the peppers, discarding the blackened skin. Cut out and discard the stems and seeds. Chop peppers and set aside.
- Put the potatoes in a saucepan, add water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a small bowl. Using a potato masher, smash 1/3 of potatoes and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots and saute until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 tsp of the salt and cook for 3 to 4 minutes longer. Stir in the chopped peppers and potatoes. Add the corn, vegetable stock, milk, pepper and the remaining salt. Simmer uncovered until the soup thickens, 25 to 30 minutes.
- Ladle into warmed bowls and sprinkle with the cilantro and oregano. Serve immediately.
- Green Chile Version
- 3/4 cup softened butter
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup blue cornmeal (yellow or white cornmeal may be substituted)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1/3 cup roasted, peeled and diced green chiles
- Red Chile Version additions (leave out the green chiles)
- 1/2 cups diced onion
- 2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp Chimayo ground red chile
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease muffin tins well or insert paper liners.
- In the bowl of a electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and buttermilk.
- In another bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. Slowly mix these ingredients with the dry mixture.
- Stir in the corn, cheese and chiles and make sure they are evenly distributed in the batter. Divide the batter among the tins and bake about 25 minutes, until just firm. Serve warm with butter.
- For the more savory Red Chile muffin: Saute the onions in hot oil until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds longer or until fragrant. Remove from the heat. Following the directions above, when you add the corn and cheese to the batter, stir in the onion, garlic and red chile powder, omitting the green chiles.
- Yield: 1 dozen large muffins or 20 small muffins
- 1 cup all-purpose, white whole wheat or panocha flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- Canola oil for frying
- Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a bowl. Cut in the shortening until a coarse meal is formed. Stir in the buttermilk with a fork until the mixture comes together into a moist dough. Form into a ball, knead several times, cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a deep pot to 375°F.
- Roll out half of the dough and cut into squares or triangles. Drop the pieces of dough, one by one, into the hot oil and fry until golden, about 30 to 40 seconds, rolling them over to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Roll and cut remaining dough and fry and serve warm with honey or honey butter.