FEW STATES FEEL AS PASSIONATELY about their produce as New Mexicans do for their chile — test any local in a battle of chile knowledge, and you’ll be bested every time. The green chile in particular holds a special honor and is widely used in high-end restaurants like The Corn Maiden, but residents take even more pride in their own family recipes.
Several varieties of the New Mexican green chile exist, but Hatch is by far the best known — it even has its own festival every August. While most locals prefer the more traditional, savory green chile dishes (such as chile relleno, green chile stew, smothered enchiladas, and breakfast burritos), there are numerous creative and unusual uses of this New Mexico staple found throughout the state.
1. Mac ‘n’ cheese
A little spicy, a little creamy, and a whole lot of comfort — adding in New Mexican green chile to one of America’s most iconic mixes of dairy and pasta takes mac ‘n’ cheese to the next level. The heat of the chile is balanced by the cheese, giving the dish a unique kick, and you’ll find it on menus across the state, from De La Vega’s Pecan Grill and Brewery in Las Cruces to the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe.
In New Mexico, meatballs are eaten with or without spaghetti, but the best ones are made mixed with green chile. Albuquerque’s El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina created a recipe that makes for a hearty meal on their own, but feel free to add a little spice to this Italian staple with some green chile alfredo sauce and linguini.
3. Wine and chile pairing
New Mexico is home to some of the oldest American vineyards, and several establishments offer the chance to pair local wines with chile from the region. The sensation is often described as “a balance of heat and sweet,” with the mellowness of the wine cutting through the fire of the chile dishes. Travelers can experience this at La Posta de Mesilla, or at the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta.
Second only to the use of green chile in mac ‘n’ cheese is a pizza topped with the peppers. You won’t find this unique blend of spice, crunch, cheese, and sauce elsewhere in America (other states may claim they can recreate it, but a New Mexican would never concur). Most restaurants, like Dr. Field Goods, are happy to accommodate you with green chile as a topping — you can even get them from Domino’s in a pinch.
One way to beat the heat of a New Mexican green chile (or enhance it, depending on your preference) is to make it into an icy treat. The pure fruit flavors add a natural sweetness and healthier alternative to ice cream, and adding tequila offers an intensified adult version of what otherwise makes for a very interesting dessert.
Waking up to the smell of breakfast cooking is one thing, but adding green chile to something as simple and delicious as a waffle takes the first meal of the day up a notch. A batter of waffle mix that includes cheddar cheese and New Mexican green chile turns what most people consider a sweet offering into a savory breakfast dish. Syrup and butter optional.
To really take advantage of the green chile flavor, sprinkle it over popcorn. You can buy ready-made versions (including a salty-sweet caramel) at places like Walker’s Popcorn Company, or you can make your own infused popcorn by adding fresh kernels to 3 tablespoons of olive oil and green chile powder. You’ll never microwave popcorn again.
8. Grilled cheese and green chile soup
Consider this the adult version of your favorite childhood lunch. Made up primarily of Hatch green chile (and some Greek yogurt for balance and creaminess), this is grilled-cheese-tomato-soup the New Mexican way.
New Mexicans often freeze their green chile before cooking with it — the heat of the chile actually increases the longer it stays frozen. The Houston Chronicle’s Dai Huynh tested this theory with a recipe for spicy-sweet chocolate cookies, where the bitterness of the chocolate helps to temper the heat from the chile.
It’s no longer a secret that chile and chocolate go surprisingly well together. Chocolatiers have begun displaying the combination in dessert cases within the last decade, and it was only a matter of time before New Mexican chile made an appearance here as well. Typically featuring ground chile powder, these truffles are easy to replicate on your own.
Pita chips and hummus have become the “it” appetizer lately; if you’re looking to stand out at your next dinner party, adding Hatch green chile is the way to go. Creamy, spicy, and hearty, this version of homemade hummus schools store-bought brands (and using fresh ingredients is cheaper, too).
In case you’ve gotten this far down the list and haven’t figured it out, green chile is an absolute knockout in desserts. Skeptics are encouraged to visit the Pie-O-Neer in Pie Town, New Mexico, where they’ll be happy to convince you. There are more than a dozen varieties of pie on the menu, but if you’re going to drive all the way out Highway 60 to get there, don’t leave without sampling the apple pie with chopped green chile and pine nuts.
Infusing vodka is a simple process, so it’s no wonder that a green chile version exists. To make your own, roast some Hatch green chile, place it in an airtight jar, pour enough vodka to cover it, and let the mixture soak for two weeks (the longer you leave it to infuse, the stronger the taste). It’s especially good for making Bloody Marys.
Adding green chile powder to glazes or donut fillings is something Albuquerque’s Duke City Donuts and Rebel Donuts do best. You’ll find flavors like green chile apple and bacon and green chile cream cheese served seasonally, when ingredients are at their freshest.
This is an easy recipe that can be used to spice up summer BBQs. Plain watermelon becomes a slightly savory dish with Hatch chile dust, which can be store-bought or homemade by roasting the chile or drying it in a dehydrator before grinding it to powder. Lime juice balances out the heat and the spicy, sour, and sweet flavors of the simple ingredients.
To New Mexico locals, putting green chile on a burger is no big deal. But if as a visitor you’re biting into your first one, it’ll likely make an impression. Most restaurants and cafes will claim their version is the best, but it’s better to make your own decision after indulging in a few stops along the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.
A final decadent dessert, the density of the cake and deep flavor of the chocolate is enhanced with a dash of roasted and chopped chile. A dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream adds another dimension to the dish, and can counter the aggressiveness of the chile for those who can’t take the heat.