UNLEASHING THE POWER OF CHILE
By Teresa Dovalpage
The smoky, sweet aroma of chiles fills the kitchen at Orlando’s New Mexican Café in Taos.
El chile, in all its permutations and colors, will soon become part of the burritos, enchiladas, rellenos and stews that have made the restaurant famous. Orlando’s has been voted “Best New Mexican Food” in Taos County since 2005.
Its success is mostly due to the high quality of the restaurant’s chile, says floor manager Felisha Rascon.
“All the chile that we use here is grown in Hatch,” she said. “Then we prepare it in our very own ways. Chile is a powerful ingredient, but one needs to know how to unleash it.”
The magic, of course, is in the recipes. Delfina Archuleta, the owner’s grandmother, invented one for vegetarian red chile that quickly became a local favorite.
El chile de Doña Delfina: lo mejor de la cocina. (Doña Delfina’s chile: the best in the kitchen.)
Rojo, verde, caribe and Christmas
There are three main kinds of chile — red, green and caribe. A popular combination of red and green is known as “Christmas,” and chile lovers choose it when they have trouble settling for just one.
Among Orlando’s signature dishes is Los Colores (The Colors) enchiladas, which includes the three kinds (pictured).
“If you are a chile novice,” says server Andres Medrano, “you should order Los Colores and try them all.”
It consists of three rolled blue-corn enchiladas: chicken with green chile, beef with red chile and cheese with chile caribe.
“These are the most usual combinations,” Medrano said. “But the possibilities are endless. Sometimes, the fun is in the mix and match.”
Once you start eating Los Colores, chances are the flavors will end up blending with each other, but that is the best part of it.
A frequently asked question: Is red chile always hotter than green?
Not necessarily. That is a common misconception, but the flavor, color and pungency (or degree of “hotness”) in the chile depend on the variety of the plant. It is influenced by the conditions of the soil and the amount of water received during the growing season, as well as the stage of ripeness when the plant is picked.
“Of the chiles we serve, red is the mildest one, caribe is in the middle and green is actually the hottest,” Medrano explains.
Toribio’s: Pure Mexican
Toribio’s owners, José Real and María Rodriguez, are both from Mexico: Real is from the capital, and his wife is from Chihuahua. The couple prepares their chile in the most puro mexicano style.
“Which is slightly different from the New Mexican way,” said Rodriguez. “We prepare the sauces by boiling the chile with tomato and water, then blending it with onion, garlic and other condiments. We don’t thicken it with flour as people do here, so our sauces tend to be lighter.”
The cook is Isabel Tarango, also from Chihuahua. When I asked her what she would recommend to those wanting an authentic Mexican chile experience, she said, “Try our breakfast burritos with potatoes, eggs and chorizo, smothered in green chile — and get ready for a ride!”
Yes, expect it to be hot. To be extra careful, Tarango suggested, order chile on the side.
But what if, despite all the precautions taken, you become “enchilado”? Enchilarse, in Spanish, means eating so much chile that your tongue feels like it’s on fire.
“Then order one of our super sweet empanadas,” Tarango said. “These little half-moon pies made of strawberry and pineapple will get rid of the piquancy right away.”
Tarango uses chile poblano, chile de árbol, guajillo and jalapeños, but she also gets big batches of New Mexican Hatch.
“The similarities, in the end, are greater than the differences,” Rodriguez concluded. “Chile is the fiery blend that binds Mexico and New Mexico. ¡Que viva el chile!”
Did you know that …?
Most people think of chile as a vegetable, but it is actually the fruit of a plant belonging to the genus Capsicum.
Chile is New Mexico’s largest agricultural crop.
The annual Hatch Chile Festival, a two-day celebration that takes place in September, is attended by more than 30,000 visitors from all over the country and abroad.
The world’s longest chile (17 inches) was grown in Hatch.
Each variety of chile has a heat level (Scoville unit) range. Hatch chile pepper has from 1,000 to 2,500 Scovilles.