Mexican Food Started Here

Most do not know the important role New Mexico has played in culinary history. Researchers and archeologists agree that New Mexico was one of the earliest settlements of the Mongolians and Tibetans when they came over the Bering strait to settle the Americas. The area has attracted visitors from before recorded history, who in turn created the pure, often spicy flavors known in New Mexico's foods.

Primarily chiles are both king and queen. Chiles themselves have been more developed in New Mexico than anywhere—especially since World War II, when Dr. Jim Nakiyami, a Professor at New Mexico State University gave his leadership to developing many, many new varieties of chiles. And, most do not know that the first American wines were made in New Mexico. The priests, Jesuits and Monks brought the first cuttings of grapes here in the 1620's from Spain, thus predating the California wine industry by 140 years.

With Prohibition in the 1920's the wine making died out, not to get started again until 50 years later in the late 1970's. Now there are over 50 wine makers throughout the state making world class, award winning wines. The wines go very well with the chile laden traditional dishes as well as any kind of food or enjoyed alone. New Mexico is often credited with being the fountainhead of the Mexican taste.

For it is there that the earliest settlers from Asia; who were the root population of the Western areas of the Americas, first settled and lent their primitive cooking methods and simple, straight forward ingredients to create a simple, frontier cuisine that continues to win the hearts and souls of all who try it. From New Mexico, the earliest settlers went south to populate Central and South America, taking their culinary customs with them. So there are similarities in the native cuisines of all the Americas. No matter whether the chiles are the unripe green ones or the ripe red ones, they both provide the great benefits of capsaicin which is so amazing as an antioxidant.—often cited as the world's greatest anti-oxidant. And anti-oxidants basically are good for us as an inhibitor of cancer cell development among other claims.

Chiles enhance your entire body's functions—making your heart healthier, also your entire vascular system, enhancing your digestion, your skin and your waistline. They excite your endorphins more than any other food and on a scale of "runner's high". So you gotta try them. Don't let the spiciness or hotness scare you—the hotter the healthier, however to begin with start mild and work up to hotter. You will be glad you did—but get ready, they are habit forming—nearly an addiction, so you will more than likely get hooked on the wonderfully exciting flavors.

However, if you do get uncomfortably hot and spicy chiles, just remember that you can tame them down quickly by eating or drinking anything sweet, dairy or acid such as lime juice or wine. In this simplistic cuisine, created out of less than 10 major ingredients, corn is the real staple with the chiles being the personality. Beans are very important as are various members of the gourd and lily families to the cuisine. Actually the combination of chiles, corn and beans is considered one of the three most healthy cuisines in the world. The other two are Eastern and Western Mediterranean. Perhaps the New Mexican native's favorite traditional dish is Red Chile Enchiladas while most visitor's to our state prefer the Green Chile ones.

In New Mexico, when an enchilada (which by the way means "in chile") is served as a main course, it is served flat, not rolled. What most people think of as Mexican food elsewhere in the world, really is New Mexican food. And now, it is the most popular taste in America, outselling all other cuisines nationally.

Tortillas outsell bread and margaritas are the most popular cocktail. Amazing, from such simple roots. The flavors are purer, simpler and more robust by far in New Mexico than in Old Mexico, where the European influence was stronger in the development of their cuisine. Some popular traditional New Mexican dishes are Carne Adovado, which was developed originally by the Spanish as a way to preserve pork after butchering. Red chile being the world's best anti-oxidant retards spoilage—a hint the Spanish learned from the Indians.

The dish is a simple preparation of slow roasted pork that has marinated in a red chile and herb marinade. Amazingly good, if well prepared. A truly native dish is posole, the bowl of many blessings--a dish made from lime (as in agricultural ground lime) soaked corn kernels. It is stewed with well browned pork bits, chiles and herbs. It is quite flavorful. Posole is a reverant dish due to the fact that posole is the Mother process for preserving corn and corn in the Native religions is the Giver of Life—their Eve so to speak.

New Mexico style chile rellenos are another native treat. They are traditionally stuffed with cheese and crusted with a meringue or corn crust and fried. They are quite good as a main dish or side dish. A truly native ingredient is the blue corn, which was developed by the Ancients. It is smoked with pinon wood as they did not have access to agricultural lime for preserving the corn. Sopaipillas were first made in 1620 in the courtyard in front of the San Francisco de Neri church in Old Town Albuquerque.

They were first made as a treat for the Indians who attended church.

Jane Butel, the first to write about Southwestern cooking, has published 18 cookbooks, several being best sellers. She operates a full-participation weekend and week long vacation cooking school, an on-line school, a cooking club, a monthly ezine, a mail-order spice, cookbook, Southwestern product business and conducts culinary tours and team-building classes. , 1-800-473-8226

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