Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Mexican Chile

Mexican food is just about my favorite cuisine if you can't tell from the picture above. I adore its rich history and connection to culture, and its complex, bold flavors. I think Rick Bayless makes some of the most beautiful and inspired food around. But I can also readily admit that the only Mexican food I've eaten bears little resemblance to the real thing. Without my favorite food and travel shows, and Anthony Bourdain to describe it, I could easily go through life thinking that Mexican cuisine equals greasy tacos and mountains of cheese covered enchiladas. Even when I try to cook "Mexican" all I'm really doing is adding some red stuff to my rice, and putting some food in a tortilla. If I'm feeling really fancy I might mix up some trusty guacamole and call it a day.

Ok so New Mexican cuisine isn't exactly the same thing. (If anything it's a little bit more interesting with the influence of the Native Americans.) But when my dad came back from a recent trip to New Mexico with a stash of dried New Mexican chiles, I jumped at the chance to try something truly authentic. And they're just so pretty. Naturally pretty food almost always tastes good in my experience.

If you ever have the opportunity to get your hands on some (I'm sure you can get them at specialty stores or online) they are fun to experiment with. If you need a crash course in how to use them, here's a good link. I would add a few things though. Before soaking them in water, toast them in a dry pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes watching carefully. They should smell toasted and become slightly darker but shouldn't turn black at all. You can turn them occasionally too. Let cool. Break them apart and set the seeds aside. Store the seeds in a jar and use just like regular hot pepper flakes. Then soak the peppers in hot water for at least an hour. Spoon the peppers out of the water and put in the food processor. As you process them, add a little bit of the liquid as needed along with any number of other ingredients. Here's a sample recipe that I used to make a sort of all purpose hot sauce. It can be adjusted to taste:

8-10 rehydrated chiles
A few tablespoons olive oil
A few tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Half of a large can of plain crushed, diced, or whole tomatoes
A few (or more) cloves roasted garlic
Honey (optional)
Chile soaking liquid if you prefer a thinner sauce

Process everything except for the last few ingredients and taste. The last three ingredients are used to adjust to your liking. If you're an amateur and can't handle the heat, that's what the honey is for.

Store in a clean glass jar in the fridge. Add to anything that needs some zip. We used it in a paella. I highly recommend mixing it into some mayo, or greek yogurt if you're a health nut, and dipping some french fries in it. I cut some sweet potatoes into wedges, roasted them, and used them as vehicles to scoop up the wonderfully spicy mayo. I'm pretty sure when the potatoes were gone I just used my finger. I can also attest to its deliciousness as a sandwich spread and as a dressing for coleslaw. Add a spoonful to some eggs. Or to make that aforementioned "Mexican" rice, just add it into some plain white rice to make your next taco night a little more interesting. If you're going this last route, I also recommend adding some chopped fresh cilantro and maybe some beans to make a really substantial side dish. You get the picture.