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Exploring New Mexico Chiles with Slow Food Santa Fe

by Nina Rosenberg, Slow Food Santa Fe


New Mexico takes its chiles very seriously. So much so that “red or green” is the official state question asked in local restaurants when diners order a dish with chile sauce (locals say “Christmas” to get both).

Chile is central to New Mexico culture and the chile industry is important to the state economy. Many types of chile are grown in New Mexico, which considers itself the chile capital of the world. The New Mexican Native chile (Capiscum annuum), better known as Chimayo chile, has been a staple of local diets in northern New Mexico for centuries and is entered in the Ark of Taste.

In October, Slow Food Santa Fe partnered with the Santa Fe School of Cooking to explore the unique culinary history of New Mexico chiles in a delicious class led by Native foods historian and Chef Lois Ellen Frank.

Chef Lois Ellen Frank and Noe Cano preparing food in the Santa Fe School of Cooking’s kitchen

Chef Lois, who has a Ph.D. in Culinary Anthropology, began the class with a fascinating discussion of the history of chiles, followed by a tasting that was similar in structure to a wine tasting.  The group of 15 participants tasted six different green chiles: Big Jim and Joe Parker varieties from northern New Mexico, Hatch chile from southern New Mexico, Poblano chiles from both New Mexico and Mexico and finally Anaheim chile, the kind found in most supermarkets.

Next, Chef Lois prepared four different chile sauces, two green sauces (one from fresh chile and one from powder) and two red sauces (one from dried pods and one from chile powder).  The group sampled all four with fresh tortillas that Chef Lois made along with the sauces.  The green chile sauce from fresh chiles and the red chile sauce from dried chile pods were particularly loved by the class.

While the folks in New Mexico will argue that the best green chile sauce is made with fresh New Mexican green chile, anyone can prepare the delicious green chile sauce with the more widely available Anaheim chile. Enjoy!

The RECIPE: Green Chile Sauce

Recipe by Lois Ellen Frank
Makes about 2 1/2 cups


1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
2-3 teaspoon minced garlic
2/3 cup mild, roasted, peeled and chopped New Mexican green chile
2/3 cup hot, roasted, peeled and chopped New Mexican green chile
freshly ground coriander seed to taste
1 1/2 cup chicken stock


1.  Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and sauté the onion until softened, about 3-4 minutes.
2.  Add the garlic and sauté two minutes more. Add the green chile and coriander and slowly stir in the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
3.  Puree part of the sauce to thicken or thicken with 1-2 tablespoons of flour.