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CHILES RELLENOS

Visitors to Santa Fe usually think of it as a visual place: the clouds and mesas that so enchanted Georgia O’Keeffe, the ancient adobe buildings around the Plaza, and the color of a fiesta. There are also sounds: the quiet of a December snow, crashing thunderstorms in the middle of summer, and the calls of geese and cranes flying overhead in the spring and fall. But Santa Fe is every bit a place of wonderful smells: lilacs pushing over an adobe wall in the springtime, the smell of a winter’s piñon fire burning in a fireplace near the Plaza. This time of year, the smell is of green chiles roasting. It is a fragrance like no other, and once you experience it, you never forget it.

Chiles have been growing during the hot summer throughout the state. Perhaps the most famous chile crop comes from Hatch,, but there are also bountiful sources in Chimayó and Socorro along with many a back yard.

All sorts of chiles at the farmers market

Chiles

When the chiles are ready for harvest, they are loaded into big gunny sacks and taken by truck all over the state. In Santa Fe, growers set up stalls throughout the city where they roast the green chiles on the spot in a revolving metal mesh drum over a blazing butane flame. The tough outer coat of the chiles is charred in the process so that it can be peeled off in preparation for cooking. The roasting creates a pungent, unmistakable smell that fills the air.

The farmers market also boasts chile roasters who make the festive environment even more vibrant.

Chile roasting at the farmers market

The spin of the chile roaster

The buyer can get a whole gunny sack full of roasted chiles or even a small plastic bag. Then the task is to take them home, peel off the charred skin, and either cook or freeze them for the winter ahead.

If you don’t need a green chile supply for the whole winter, you can even do them yourself on the barbecue or, better yet, on a special device made of metal screen and designed to sit over a gas flame. The device is indispensable for the Santa Fe cook. One can be ordered from the Santa Fe Cooking School.

Chile roasting pan

Roasting chiles

Roasted chiles resting in plastic bag before peeling

Green chiles wind up in just about every Santa Fe dish you can think of, including ice cream, but probably the most popular dishes are green chile stew, green chile cheeseburger, and my favorite, chiles rellenos.

Making a chile relleno is an act of love  because the preparation takes a lot of steps, and the chiles have to be eaten immediately. A leftover chile relleno is a soggy shadow of its former self. Still, they are worth the effort, especially when they are covered with a fresh salsa roja.  Here’s how you do it.

Roasted chiles peeled and ready for batter

Cheese pieces and chiles ready for stuffing

RECIPES

Chiles Rellenos

Ingredients

  • 6 to 12 Anaheim or New Mexico chiles
  • Monterey jack cheese, one ½x½x4 inch piece of cheese for each chile
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • all-purpose flour for dredging chiles
  • peanut oil for deep-frying

Two parts of batter before combining

Coating the chiles with batter

Method

  • Purchase roasted chiles or roast your own on a chile roasting pan over a high flame, a very hot barbecue grill, or in the oven under the drill. Turn frequently until all sides of all chiles are heavily charred.
  • Immediately place the chiles in a plastic bag and allow to cool. Then remove the chiles from the bag, and under running water peel the charred skin carefully so as not to tear the flesh of the chiles.
  • Cut off the stems of the chiles, pull out the seeds and inner membranes using your fingers. Rinse out the chiles to remove any loose seeds.
  • Gently stuff each chile with one of the pieces of cheese and set aside on paper towels.
  • In the meantime, prepare the batter by combining egg yolks, milk, flour, salt and vegetable oil using a rotary egg beater. Let the mixture blend for  30 minutes while you whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold the yolk and milk mixture into the whipped egg whites until well combined.
  • Dredge each prepared chile into flour. Then dip the chiles individually into the combined batter.
  • While preparing the chiles, pour enough peanut oil into a deep-sided heavy pot (A cast iron skillet works well) and heat to 375°F.
  • One at a time, place the batter-coated chiles into the hot oil. Cook no more than two at a time. Otherwise the chiles may stick together.
  • Turn the chiles when well browned on the bottom and finish frying the other side. Remove from the hot oil and drain on layers of paper towels.
  • Keep the finished chiles on a plate in an oven heated to 200°F until all of the chiles are fried. Serve immediately. Otherwise they may get soggy.

Testing oil temperature with a cube of bread

Chiles rellenos frying

Quick Salsa Roja

Ingredients

  • 1 14.5ounce can, diced tomatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dry Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons ground red chiles (amount and heat according to your taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • In a blender, purée the canned tomatoes, including their juice
  • Transfer the puréed tomato to a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to the simmer
  • Stir in the remaining ingredients until completely combined. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes

Finished chiles rellenos ready to serve

Assembly

  • Place two or three warm chiles rellenos on each plate
  • Top with a generous serving of the salsa
  • Add rice and/or beans (refried or other) if you desire.

Chiles rellenos with rice and fresh pear with green chile raspberry preserves and almonds

I finished the meal with rice and a fresh pear-half filled with green chile flavored raspberry preserves (no kidding) and blanched almonds.

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RED OR GREEN? CHRISTMAS IN NEW MEXICO

The standard question in Santa Fe when you order chile is “Red or green?” If you have a hard time deciding, you can just say, “Christmas”, and they will bring out a dish slathered in both colors of chiles. This week’s  cookie recipe picks up on that theme. Linzer cookies are traditional for Christmas – a tender sandwich of almond or hazelnut cookie filled with raspberry jam pushing through a hole in the top. They remind some people of eyes, and  so the cookies are also called Linzer Augen (eyes). Authentic Linzer cookies are delicious, but for a Santa Fe Christmas, they almost beg for a little chile kick.

Rolling and cutting the cookies

As the name of the cookie suggests, it had its origins in Linz, Austria. Lenz is an ancient city founded by the Romans and home to luminaries like the mathematician Johannes Kepler, the composer Anton Bruckner, and unfortunately Adolf Hitler. But it may be more famous as the home of the Linzer Torte, a delicious pastry that can be traced back to the 1600’s and is now a feature of many of the great pastry shops of Vienna. It has become popular throughout Austria as well as the world, and especially at Christmas. The Linzer cookie uses all of the same ingredients.

Jars of chile-flavored jam

For the Santa Fe version, there are local products that let the baker add that chile kick without changing the basic recipe too much. Heidi’s Raspberry Farm makes a raspberry-red chile jam that fits the bill. In New Mexico, you can find it at farmers’ markets or in specialty grocery stores. You can also order it from Heidi’s Raspberry Farm, P.O. Box 1329, Corrales, NM 87048. Green chile jam is harder to find, but you can make your own from roasted sweet green chile sauce made by Desert Gardens, Comfort Foods, Inc., 9900 Montgomery Blvd, NE, Albuquerque, NM 87111, www.comfortfoods.com. I’ll tell you how to transform the sauce into jam as well as giving you the basic recipe for the cookies. You will see that there are a lot of steps in making the cookies, but it can all be done in a morning of busy baking.

RECIPES

Sweet Green Chile Jam

Ingredients

9 ounce jar sweet green chile (see sources)

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon low- or no-sugar pectin

  1. Empty the jar of green chile in a small saucepan. Stir in the sugar, pectin, and water, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  2. Boil for two minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to  cool partly
  3. Return the mixture to the jar. Cool completely, and then store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Almond Flour

Ingredients

½ Cup almonds

4 Cups boiling water

  1. Place the raw almonds in a large heat-resistant bowl.
  2. Pour the hot water over the almonds and let steep for 5 minutes.
  3. In batches, remove the almonds from the hot water. Slip the skins off the almonds.
  4. Spread the peeled almonds on clean paper towels and allow to dry completely for about two hours.
  5. Ad the completely dried almonds to a spice grinder or small food processor. Grind the nuts using pulses of the low power. Watch carefully as too vigorous grinding can turn the almonds into almond butter. Remove and set aside when the almonds resemble coarse cornmeal.

Icing

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter,melted

1 Cup confectioners’ sugar

¼ teaspoon almond extract

2 Tablespoons cream

  1. In a small bowl, combine the butter, sugar, almond extract, and cream.
  2. Transfer to a plastic, zipper sealed sandwich bag and cut a 1/16 inch piece from one corner of the bag. When ready to ice the cookies, squeeze the icing through the hole to form patterns of your choice on the cookie top.

Linzer Cookies

Ingredients

½ Cup vegetable shortening

¼ Cup unsalted butter

¼ Cup sour cream

½ Cup sugar

½ Cup brown sugar, packed

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

2½ Cups all-purpose flour

½ Cup almond flour

½ Cup cornstarch

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the shortening, butter, sour cream, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and vanilla extract. Beat at slow to medium speed until the ingredients are well mixed.
  2. Add the egg, and continue to mix at medium speed until the batter is light and fluffy.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, almond flour, and cornstarch.
  4. Add the dry mix to the batter and continue to beat until the ingredients are well combined and you have a smooth dough.
  5. Divide the dough in two equal portions. Form the portions into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and chill them for at least one hour in the refrigerator. If the dough is too soft, it will stick to the rolling-pin when you try to roll out the cookies.
  6. Roll the chilled dough, one ball at a time,  on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 2¼ inch round cutter, cut rounds in the dough. Then using a 1 inch cutter, cut holes in the center of half of the rounds.
  7. Gather up any scraps of dough and shape them into a ball. Chill, roll, and cut cookies until all of the dough is used.
  8. Bake the cookies  for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges, on parchment-lined baking sheets in an oven preheated to 350º. Cool on a mesh rack.
  9. Ice the tops of the cookies with the hole in the center. Alternatively, and more classically, sprinkle them with confectioners’ sugar. Turn the solid cookies over and place about ½ teaspoon of jam in the middle. Then top with the frosted cookies.

Baked, decorated cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

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