Our favorite part of traveling is trying new cuisines. And rather than fill our carry-ons with souvenir knickknacks that eventually find their way to Goodwill, we bring home unique foods from the region to enjoy later. This way, our trip lives on.
Back in October, we luckily found ourselves in Albuquerque for two reasons: 1) the magical hot air balloon fiesta, and 2) hatch chile season. We couldn’t exactly stuff a hot air balloon into our suitcase, but we could pack mole, spices, biscochitos (look for a blog about these favorite cookies next holiday season), and several bags of roasted Hatch green chiles.
Chiles are so important to New Mexico that the official state question is “Red or Green?” This refers to the question always asked whether one prefers red or green chile when ordering New Mexican cuisine. We tried both throughout our visit and had a hard time choosing a winner. It depended largely on the dish itself and which sauce that particular restaurant may have executed better. We learned to order “Christmas-style” so that we could try a little of both.
But when Hatch chiles are used, green almost always prevails. Hatch chiles refer to chiles grown in and around the Hatch Valley. They have a flavor all their own that can really elevate a dish. A while back, we took a class in L.A. where we prepared bean and chile tamales using generic green chiles. They were okay. Later, we made them at home using our Hatch chiles and…wow…they were amazing! Throw Hatch chiles in to elevate and spice up vegetables, soups, salsas, chilis, casseroles, eggs, etc.
Generally, Hatch chiles are roasted before use. You can do this on a grill, gas stovetop, or in the oven. On our October trip to Albuquerque, large, rotating roasters capable of handling hundreds at a time showed up at farmer’s markets and grocery store parking lots. We ended up bringing several pounds of frozen roasted Hatch chiles home in our luggage. Well packed, they made the short flight from Albuquerque back to L.A. with no problem.
They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and so it’s true for Hatch chiles. As they have increased in popularity, impersonators abound. True Hatch chiles may be sold on a limited basis at grocery stores and produce markets beyond New Mexico. However, Hatch chile season usually falls around September/October. If you see fresh “Hatch chiles” advertised outside of these months beware. They look like many other types of chiles, including Anaheims, but don’t taste the same. Occasionally, you’ll find them canned or frozen. Skip the canned. Best to buy frozen and already roasted if you can find them.
One of our favorite uses is this green chile chicken enchilada soup from Cute As a Fox. There’s just enough creaminess to balance the spice. A word of caution: Hatch chiles vary from mild to spicy; check what you have before dumping them into the soup. Joe Bob nearly killed Jessica once when the Hatch chiles had a lot more spice than usual. In addition to the recommended garnishes, we like to add some avocado too because, hey, we live in California and that’s what we do.
We like to double this recipe because, like many soups, it freezes and reheats well. This means our taste buds will keep taking us back to Albuquerque again and again!