Comfort Food

Winter in NM means warm dishes and not chiles

By Lucy Herrman

When people come to Taos, one of the first things they usually do is visit a restaurant for a taste of that classic Northern New Mexico cuisine. And “classic” almost always means chile. Whether red or green, most people agree that the rich piquant flavor of chile is unique to New Mexico. No wonder chiles form the basis of the comfort foods of Taos.

For hundreds of years, the native people of New Mexico used chiles traded up from South America in their cooking. But it was when the Spanish conquistadors settled their headquarters in Northern New Mexico that chiles fully established their hold on the tastes and preferences of its people. Today, chiles are more than ever an important crop, and New Mexico produces over 53,000 tons of chiles a year. That’s a lot of chile! 

The good news is that there are plenty of places to try it, whether in enchiladas, burritos, stews or so many other signature dishes. Many restaurants have their own secret techniques and recipes for their particular take on chile dishes. And while everyone has their favorites, it is delightful to try them all.

But sometimes, especially when traveling with family or friends, it’s fun to stay in and cook some of the local cuisine yourself. Green chile stew with chicken is quick and easy to prepare. Red chile stew with beef is versatile both as a wholesome topping for Frito pie, or as a dish unto itself. Calabacitas enchiladas makes enough for a large group, or for more than one night. If you have kids, it even provides a tasty and appealing way to get them to eat their veggies. All three dishes use traditional New Mexico flavors and ingredients.

If you are coming in from a day of skiing, you may consider streamlining your cooking endeavors by using frozen red chile sauce, or frozen roasted and chopped green chile. If you don’t have time to make a crema sauce for enchiladas from scratch, canned cream of mushroom soup can come to the rescue. And because the results are just so darn good — and comforting — no one needs to know your secret. 

So here are some recipes that make use of Taos’s signature ingredients, with a few short-cuts along the way. Why not give our Taos comfort foods a try for yourself? Then take some of these ideas, and New Mexico’s chile, home with you for later. Buen provecho!

  • Chicken with green chile stew
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 to 1-1/2 pounds boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
    1 large onion, diced
    3 garlic cloves, chopped
    2 large carrots, diced
    2 stalks celery, diced
    1 cup frozen corn kernels
    2 cups water
    4-5 cups baby potatoes, quartered
    2 cups roasted, peeled and chopped green chile
    1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
    1 diced medium zucchini 
    Salt to taste
    Optional Garnishes:
    Sliced green onions
    Diced fresh tomatoes
    Diced avocado
    Chopped fresh cilantro
    Lime wedges
    Sour cream
    Shredded cheddar or mojito cheese

Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the meat until it loses its raw color. Add the onions, garlic to the pot and sauté over medium heat until softened. Add the potatoes, celery, carrots, carrots, corn, red bell pepper, zucchini, green chile, water and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt. Simmer about 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Add 1-2 cups water if needed. Simmer an additional 15 minutes until everything is tender.

Ladle stew into bowls and add optional garnishes as desired. 

Serves 6-8 people.

  • Red chile stew with beef
    1 tablespoon oil
    1 pound lean ground beef
    1/2 cup chopped onion
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    12 ounces cubed potatoes
    1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
    1 tablespoon honey
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 14-ounce tub frozen red chile, defrosted
    2-3 cups water
    Sour cream
    Tortilla chips

Heat oil in heavy saucepan or dutch oven. Brown the ground beef with the onion and garlic until all red color is gone from meat. Add the potatoes and pinto beans to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the honey, salt, pepper, oregano, cumin and cinnamon. Mix well and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the red chile and 2 cups of water and combine well.

Bring to a boil, then cover and lower to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes. Check and stir well. If too thick, add an additional cup of water. Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.

Serve in bowls with sour cream and tortilla chips.

Makes 4 hearty servings.

  • Calabacitas enchiladas
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1/2 cup chopped onion
    3 cloves chopped garlic
    1/2 cup sliced celery
    3/4 cup sliced carrots
    3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
    3 cups sliced zucchini and summer squash
    2 cups corn kernels from frozen
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
    1/2 cup chopped roasted green chile
    2 cans cream of mushroom soup
    1/2 cup sour cream
    12-15 corn tortillas
    2 cups shredded Cheddar or Mexican cheese blend
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking dish and set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy pot. Add the onion, garlic and celery, and cook, using medium-high heat, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add the carrots and mushrooms. Reduce heat to medium and cook until mushrooms begin to wilt, about a minute. Add the zucchini, the corn and the seasonings. Cook over medium-low heat for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a bowl, combine the soup, the sour cream and the green chile to make a chile cream sauce.

To assemble the enchilada, spread a little of the chile cream mixture on the bottom of the baking dish. Lay corn tortillas, edges overlapping, to cover bottom of dish. Spread about a third of the chile cream mixture over the tortillas. Spread half the vegetables over the cream. Sprinkle with about 1/3 of the shredded cheese. Cover with tortillas. This time, spread the remaining vegetables over the tortillas, then spread half the chile cream over the vegetables. Sprinkle with half the remaining cheese. Cover with another layer of tortillas. Spread remaining chile cream sauce over the tortillas. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake in oven for 1 hour, until filling is bubbly and top is browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6-8 generous servings.