The El Protrero Trading Post sits next to the Chimayo sanctuary. The garden out to the side interested us almost more than the wares lining the shop’s shelves. There, Nicolas Madrid, who works in the trading post, showed us several short rows of Chimayo peppers. He picked some and showed us what to look for: a sort of wrinkly, curled shape very like a ram’s horn with comparatively broad shoulders. The growing tip should have a dimple. Such tips helped us negotiate local farmers’ markets where peppers are often tossed together in boxes without individual identification. Nicolas picked about a dozen peppers for us to cook later. We also bought bags of the hot and medium Chimayo ground chile pepper. Nicolas is also an artisan tinsmith as is his father. Together they are reviving the local art of decorative tinwork; I carried off one of his crosses to hang in my new office.
Recipe: New Mexican Red Chile Sauce
The sauce only improves with time, so make it at least a day ahead of time. This also allows the chile pepper to fully rehydrate and make a smoother sauce. I adapted the El Protrero recipe and used some amazing oregano we found at a farmers’ market in New Mexico.
Makes about 4 cups; enough for about 6 servings
- ¾ cup ground red chile powder such as medium or hot Chimayo chile powder
- 4 cups chicken stock or 2 cups each stock and water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 medium white onion, chopped (optional)
- 4 cloves garlic or to taste, pressed or finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, preferably Mexican oregano, or 1 ½ teaspoons dried (optional)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, or more to taste
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the chile powder and stock. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, if using, and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and oregano, if using, and stir well.
- Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the flour has lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the chile-stock and 1 teaspoon salt until smooth. Bring to a boil, and then simmer gently to allow the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken, at least 10 minutes. Taste, add 1 teaspoon vinegar, and taste again. Adjust seasonings with more salt and vinegar as needed.
- Let the sauce cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate overnight. To reheat, put the sauce over low heat and bring to a simmer. Thin, if needed, with more stock or water. The sauce keeps, covered and refrigerated, for several days. Or freeze.
Quick Notes: If you stack tortillas, sauce, and fillings on top of each other and serve them, you could call the dish enchiladas. If you reheat fillings (meat, poultry, or vegetables) in the sauce and serve it over rice, you could call it a chile stew. And if you reheated the fillings in the sauce and spooned it into fresh, hot tortillas, and then garnished perhaps with shredded cabbage and maybe a little crema, you can call the dish tacos.
To make a vegetarian version, use only water and/or vegetable stock and use vegetables as a filling. You might use corn kernels, roasted or steamed winter squash, zucchini, sautéed or grilled mushrooms and onions, and/or roasted, peeled, poblano peppers.
The onion and garlic can be roasted on a griddle instead of sautéed.
To make enchiladas for 6
Have everything ready and hot for easy assembly.
12 corn tortillas (2 per person)
1 recipe Red Chile Sauce
About 1 pound cooked, shredded chicken
1 pound cooked spinach or chard, optional
About ½ cup crumbled queso fresco or grated Monterey Jack cheese
About ½ cup chopped white onion
Soften tortillas on a griddle or fry them in oil and blot on paper towels.
With tongs, dip 6 tortillas in the hot sauce and place in the center of 6 warm dinner plates.
Top the tortillas equally with the chicken and spinach (if using).
Scatter some cheese and onion on each portion and spoon a little sauce on top.
Dip the remaining tortillas in sauce and lay them over the rest. Spoon a little more sauce over the top and then scatter each portion with more cheese and onion.
Serve immediately with rice and beans and perhaps a cabbage salad with carrots and julienned red bell pepper.
When Company Comes
You can give this rustic dish into a more eye-catching presentation by upping the ante on the garnishes.
Add julienned radish, cilantro sprigs, and pickled red onions (very thinly sliced onions marinated in lime juice until the color turns bright pink) to the final toppings.
Drizzle the enchiladas with a crema (sour cream whisked with lime and a little salt).