Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Green Chiles Reign in the Land of Enchantment

Before even landing in New Mexico a week back for the grand occasion of a good friend’s wedding in which I was appointed to smudge prior to the ceremony with the ancient scent of smoky sage, I knew that I would be dousing my palate in green chiles. Otherwise known as the simple Anaheim chile, the long and vivid green conduit of mellow and verdant spice is after all the state vegetable and I am a girl for whom spice tolls.

It’s funny that when I travel I will seek out and eat what’s indigenous to the land even if it’s something I have access to but don’t often eat when back home. There are certainly plenty of Anaheims in Southern California but in staying true to the spirit of travel, I decided to attempt eating them whenever I could and in all of their forms, of which there were numerous.

First stop was Bobcat Bite, a burger joint that touts having the best green chile burger around. We literally drove here straight from the plane and placed our name on top of the wet erase board to wait twenty minutes for a seat. What arrived before us was a huge, meaty burger covered in a white cheese sauce dotted with diced green chiles. We didn’t know yet about the distinct smokiness that comes when some skin is still left on the roasted chiles so were wondering a little bit about the burger’s reputation when what we tasted didn’t seem to stand up to the pre-press expectations of ours. Yes, the chiles packed plenty of heat, and yes, the sizzling hot burger was jam packed with yummy, runny rare meat, but the chiles could have come directly out of a can. Maybe they even did!

A nice seared jalapeno was on the menu though and appeased my appetite for bite.

Later at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market we encountered some serious chile taste when purchasing a freshly baked slab of bread filled with melted cheese and doused with green chile heat. The temperatures were finally rising and we were starting to discover that the roasted-ness of the chiles is what elevates them from mere veggie green to excellent flavor addition to a dish.

Everywhere we went in New Mexico it seemed we were prone to encounter a parking lot boasting a grand green chile roasting machine. Looking very similar to a lotto ball machine but with fire, this spinning contraption spun chiles all over the state in front of our eyes emitting the wafting scent of pure charred goodness.

We found a really great produce store called the Fruit Basket where we were able to buy freshly roasted parking lot chiles in a Ziploc bag still warm for four bucks. This became our staple snack between hikes to old Pueblo cave dwellings and mesa-top villages – chiles rubbed of their skin and seeds and placed between freshly made tortillas with a drizzle of locally made honey. Enough carbs for our hours long walking treks and heat to clean out the system in between.

Just like the old soda fountain days, we came across a curious little Mexican restaurant stashed inside a pharmacy where we found a heaping bowl of pinto beans and green chiles to eat mid-afternoon. We sat old fashioned style on the red vinyl swivel stools to down our meal alongside some blue corn cheese enchiladas.

I am glad that we decided to give the green chile on burgers another try because our trip to ABQ Brew Pub (yes, even though it's housed in a typical sports bar type atmosphere) proved fruitful with an award winning Southwestern Chile Burger studded with tempura fried-roasted chile ribbons and a sesame-seed-bunned cheeseburger ripe with fresh roasted chile strips. 

Of course, I had to buy some dried and diced green chiles in a bag to take home with me as well. I am thinking I might grill some chicken breasts in it and then douse them with some Mexican drinking chocolate mole that I bought on the trip as well in honor of the sun god that kept everything about our Southwest journey caliente enough to keep us always on our toes. 

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