The backbone of New Mexican cuisine


Courtesy of BBC Travel
By Lindsey Galloway

“Red or Green?” is more than just a question in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Referring to which type of chile sauce a waiter should bring to the table, those two options have been the backbone of New Mexican cuisine and the unifying ingredient for the many foods and cultures that have called this state home. The query even became New Mexico’s official “state question” in 1999.

(Photo: Indian Puebl0 Cultural Center)

The Rio Grande rift valley where Albuquerque now sits was first inhabited by stone-and-adobe dwelling Native Americans, a collection of tribes known collectively as the Pueblo people. Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s, building missions and establishing farms, and eventually founded a city in 1706, named Albuquerque after a Spanish duke (the first “r” was later dropped).  Anglo settlers came in droves after 1848, when the territory of New Mexico was ceded to the United States from the newly independent Mexico.

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Relics of the past live on in Albuquerque’s present day culinary scene. From Pueblo blue corn porridge to Spanish empanadas, from Mexican carne asada to red and green chile, a good meal is the best way to uncover the many cultures that have shaped New Mexico’s largest city.

Native tastes and traditions
The Pueblo’s centuries-old staples — beans, corn and squash – still play a major part in their modern dishes. The Pueblo Harvest Café and Bakery, in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, highlights both ancient recipes and contemporary variations based on these traditional ingredients.

Blue corn atole, a slate-coloured porridge, is a typical morning dish, hearty without being too thick or too sweet, though toppings like berries or nuts can be added to enhance the flavor. The café also makes blue corn pancakes for a European twist on the native blue corn. Lunch and dinner include dishes such as bison, served on the bone or ground into meatloaf; carne adovada, a pork marinated in red chile and served with beans and squash; and posole, a traditional corn hominy and pork stew.

All entrees come with oven bread, a traditional loaf baked in the adobe clay oven (also called a horno) on the center’s patio. The beehive-shaped horno was introduced by Spanish settlers, but quickly became a prominent feature in many Pueblo homes. The peasant-style bread with its crunchy exterior and soft interior is often served with creamy, sweet pinon butter made from locally-abundant pine nuts.

Read more about New Mexican cuisine over at BBC Travel!