Dried red New Mexico chile peppers

New Mexican cuisine is the cuisine of the Southwestern US state of New Mexico. The region is primarily known for its fusion of Pueblo Native American cuisine with Hispano Spanish and Mexican cuisine originating in Nuevo México.[1][2][3] This Southwestern culinary style is popular beyond the current boundaries of New Mexico, and is found throughout the old territories of Nuevo México and the New Mexico Territory, today the state of Arizona,[4] parts of Texas (particularly El Paso County and the panhandle),[5][6] and the southern portions of Colorado,[7] Utah,[8] and Nevada.[9]

This cuisine had adaptations and influences throughout its history, including early on from the nearby Apache, Navajo, and throughout New Spain and the Spanish Empire, also from French, Italian, Portuguese, and other Mediterranean cuisine, along with early European bed and breakfasts and cafés, furthermore during the American territorial phase from cowboy chuckwagons and Western saloons, additionally after statehood from Route 66 American diner, Mexican-American cuisine, fast food restaurants, and global cuisine.[10][1][11]

Even so, New Mexican cuisine developed in fairly isolated circumstances, which has allowed it to maintain its indigenous, Spanish, Mexican and Latin identity, and is therefore not like any other Latin food originating in the contiguous United States.[12]: 109 [13][14] It can be easily distinguished from Mexican and American cuisines, due to its emphasis on New Mexican spices, herbs, flavors, and vegetables; especially red and green New Mexico chile peppers,[15][16][17] anise (used in bizcochitos),[18] and piñon (used as a snack or in desserts).[19]

It is also identifiable by the presence of foods and dishes that originate in New Mexico, such as Native American frybread-style sopapillas, breakfast burritos, enchilada montada (stacked enchiladas), green chile stew, carne seca (a thinly sliced variant of jerky), green chile burgers, posole (a hominy dish), slow-cooked frijoles (beans, typically pinto or bolita beans), calabacitas (a sautéed zucchini and summer squash dish), and carne adobada (pork marinated in red chile).[20][21][22]


Traditional horno outdoor oven

Prior to the establishment of New Mexico's current boundaries, Santa Fe de Nuevo México's land claim encompassed the Pueblo peoples and also oversaw the land of the Chiricahua, Comanche, Mescalero, and Navajo.

The Spaniards brought their cuisine which mingled with the indigenous. They introduced wheat, rice, beef, mutton/lamb, among other foods and flavors, to the native corn, chile, beans, squash, and other indigenous ingredients.[12]: 110–116 

During this early development period the horno, an outdoor beehive-shaped earth oven, became ubiquitous in Pueblo and Hispano communities.[23] This distinct history, combined with the local terrain and climate, has resulted in significant differences between the cuisine of New Mexico and somewhat similar styles in Northern Mexico, and other Southwestern US states such as California, Arizona, and Texas.[12][14]

New Mexico's population includes Native Americans who have worked the land for thousands of years, including the farms of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples as well as the modern extant Pueblo, Navajo and Apache. The Hispano explorers included farmers and ranchers as they arrived during the Spanish era in the 16th century, well into the Mexican era which ended in the 19th century.

Americans traded and settled after the Civil War, today groups from Asian and communities have come to New Mexico.[24][25]

When New Mexicans refer to chile they are talking about pungent pods, or sauce made from those pods, not the concoction of spices, meat or beans known as Texas chili con carne.[citation needed] While the chile pod is sometimes spelled chili outside of New Mexico, US Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico made this state's spelling official as chile, by entering it into the Congressional Record.[26]: 61 

One of the first authors to publish a cookbook describing traditional New Mexican cuisine was educator and writer Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, who published Historic Cookery in 1931.[27] Her work helped introduce cooking with chiles to the United States more broadly.[28]


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Main article: New Mexico chile

Chile ristras ripening from green to red
Hatch, New Mexico green chiles

New Mexico chile is the defining ingredient of New Mexican food. Chile is New Mexico's largest agricultural crop.[29] Within New Mexico, green chile is also popular in non-New Mexican cuisines including Mexican-style food and American food like cheeseburgers, french fries, bagels, and pizza.[30]

The New Mexico official State Question is "Red or green?"[31] This refers to the choice of red or green chile with an entrée. "Christmas," a relatively new tradition originating in the 1980s,[32] is a request for both (one side covered with green, the other with red).[33] New Mexico red and green chile have such a rich and distinctive flavor that traditional preparations require few additional flavoring ingredients. The essence of New Mexico chile preparation is its simplicity.[34]

The New Mexico green chile is a variety of the chile pepper, Capsicum annuum, and was developed as a recognizable strain in New Mexico by the late nineteenth century. It is available today in several distinct and selectively-cultivated strains called cultivars.

The chile pepper is grown in the state's very high altitude (4,000–8,000 ft) and dry, hot climate. Much like grapes for wine, these growing conditions contribute, along with genetics, to giving New Mexico green chile its distinctive deep green color, texture, and flavor.

The climate of New Mexico tends to increase the capsaicin levels in the chile pod compared to pods grown in other regions. This results in the possibility of hotter varieties. New Mexico green chiles can range from mild to extremely hot.[35]

At harvest time (August through the middle of October) green chile is typically roasted, peeled and frozen for the year ahead. Chile is such a staple in New Mexico that many national restaurant chains offer New Mexico chile at their New Mexico locations.[30]

New Mexico red chile is simply the fully ripened green chile pepper. As it ripens, it first turns orange and then quickly turns red. As it does so, the skin thickens and fuses to the inner fruit or "meat" of the pepper. This means that, for the red pepper to be enjoyable, it must first be dried and then blended into a puree. The puree can be made using full red chile pods or red chile powder (which is made by finely grinding the dried pod).

The purée is not edible until cooked as red chile sauce. This is made by cooking the puree with garlic, salt – and occasionally oregano – and has the consistency of tomato soup. Discerning native New Mexicans prefer sun-dried over oven-dried red chile, as the oven-drying process gives it a non-traditional smoky flavor and a dark maroon color.

Red chile peppers are traditionally sun-dried in bundles called ristras, which are a common decorative sight on porches and in homes and businesses throughout the Southwest.[36] The process of creating the ristra is highly labor-intensive, so in recent decades it has become a predominantly decorative item.

The bulk of New Mexico chile is grown in the Hatch Valley in the south of the state, in and around the village of Hatch. It is also grown along the entire Rio Grande Valley, and Chimayo in the north is also well known for its chile.[37]: 15–46 


Typical New Mexico street scene with a truck (in this case a van) selling piñon nuts

Piñones, or piñon nuts, are a traditional food of Native Americans and Hispanos in New Mexico that is harvested from the ubiquitous piñon pine shrub.[38] The state of New Mexico protects the use of the word piñon for use with pine nuts from certain species of indigenous New Mexican pines.[19] The harvest doesn't generally arrive in full force until after New Mexico’s first freeze of the winter.[39]

Other ingredients

Raw blue corn

Wheat flour tortillas are more prevalent in New Mexico cuisine as a table bread than corn tortillas.[40]: 131–133  However, corn tortillas, corn tortilla chips, and masa are the foundations of many traditional New Mexico dishes, and are sometimes made of blue corn.[41] Common traditional dishes include enchiladas, tacos, posole, tamales, and sopaipillas and honey served with the meal.

Corn (maize) remains a staple grain, the yellow sweet corn variety is most common in New Mexico, though white is sometimes used, and blue and red flint corn varieties are used for specialties like atole and blue-corn tortilla chips. Kernel corn and corn on the cob are frequent side dishes, as in the American South.

Corn is not a frequent component of New Mexico salsa or pico de gallo, and is usually a separate side dish in and of itself.

Anise is common in some desserts, especially the state cookie, the bizcochito.

Cilantro, a pungent green herb (also called Mexican or Chinese parsley, the seeds of which are known as coriander) used fresh in salsas, and as a topping for virtually any dish; not common in traditional New Mexican cuisine, but one of the defining tastes of Santa Fe style.

Cumin, the quintessential "Mexican food" spice, is used very differently in New Mexican food, usually reserved for spicing ground beef and sometimes other meats for burritos, tacos, and nachos. It is not used to flavor red and green chile sauces. Oregano is a sparingly used but common herb in traditional New Mexican dishes.

The early Spanish Colonies along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico used safflower as a substitute for saffron in traditional recipes. An heirloom variety originating from Corrales, New Mexico, called "Corrales Azafran" is still cultivated and used as a saffron substitute in New Mexican cuisine.[42][43]

Foods and dishes

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Biscochitos, the state cookie of New Mexico
Chile con queso
A smothered, Christmas-style breakfast burrito from Tia Sophia's diner in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Cactus fries with a side of prickly pear sauce
Stacked-style blue-corn chicken enchiladas smothered in red chile sauce with posole and pinto beans
Frito pie at Five & Dime General Store on the Santa Fe Plaza


See also: List of breweries in New Mexico

New Mexico wine includes Gruet Winery, which produces sparkling wine.[57][58]


See also: Category:Restaurants in New Mexico and List of restaurants in Albuquerque, New Mexico

There have been several restaurants and restaurant chains serving New Mexican cuisine.

See also


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