Albuquerque Green Chile Sauce

quesadillassaucealbuquirkyI’m signed up to attend a massive writing conference in Boston this week. These “literary events,” as I have dubbed them in my head, are one of the major things I’ll miss about ye olde Beantown. I’ve never been in a more literary city–including Paris, though I was only there for three days and visited Shakespeare and Company on every one of them.

Privately owned bookshops, writing classes, small presses, journals, book fairs–if there is one thing to say about Boston, it is that it clings as tightly to the printed book as it does to other traditions. Here, it’s not a vague evasion of the future to say that you want to graduate and “go into publishing.” And attending an adult writing class isn’t the mark of a mid-life crisis.

doorOne of the panels at the conference this week is about the relevance of regional fiction–”Does place still matter?”

As I write this from the back office of our restaurant in Waco, TX, I would argue that, indeed, it does. As soon as I’m in the Texas heat, and driving on the (I now realize) oversized roads and highways, the lights and T tracks of Boston seem like a scene from a different life, and I guess they are.

winderhighnoonjewelryspread2I was in Albuquerque for a pop culture conference several weeks ago (I do get around, huh?). That historic city of over 500,000 people was a world away from the damp cobblestones of Boston. Before landing, we flew over dry, red mountains. The dust clouding up from the ground left a tint on the cab driver’s windows as he pointed out various attractions and historic markers. From my equally coated hotel window, I could see the petroglyphs rising off the flat dirt in the distance, and, stretching beyond–nothing. The wind was dry and dusty, and the sun-splashed city square was like a ghost town.

Needless to say, I didn’t spend as much time at pop culture programming as the planners would probably have hoped, but exploring the town was like unlocking the everyday lives of the people there. It was the slow season, and walking on the wide lanes through the Old Town was like walking through Disney Land after hours. The centuries-old adobe churches and missions now housed “Authentic New Mexico Rug” stores, and in the early morning desert air, the vendors were slow to set up their mats on the cool cement slabs.

muralmodernfoodtruckI guess what I’m saying is that the layout of the place, its tinny high air, the mishmash of cultures, necessarily change the experiences of the people there. From the feel of the clothes you wear, to the static electricity, to the way you get to the grocery store, where you live has a direct effect on the patterns that make up the experience of your life. Part of that regional experience is cuisine.

As I learned at almost every meal in Albuquerque, including the room service breakfast burrito I scarfed before leaving town, the town’s take on Mexican border food involves two ubiquitous sauces–red chile and green chile. These sauces seem to come with everything you order, and every server asks, “Red, green, or both?”

Old and new.

Old and new.

dryredsI was a fan of the red chile, which has a raw, dry taste and is more “pure pepper” in my opinion. Made from pulverized dried red chile peppers, however, it wasn’t as easy to duplicate in Boston. When I got home, I went for their green chile sauce. I made mine with the peppers I could find–two cubanelles, an anaheim, and a jalapeno, for good measure. I roasted them over a flame, removed their skins, and cooked them with onions and garlic. I read online that green chile sauce is thickened with flour and chicken broth, so I replicated this technique with flour and vegetable broth, so that a vegetarian friend could join the fun. My sauce turned out slightly yellow, though, as you’ll notice…

quesadillasLuckily, it had a delicious, savory taste, and the roux-thickened sauce was much nicer than a few cornstarch versions I’ve had before. It tasted great on some bean and cheese quesadillas I made. For the quesadillas, I used the random ingredients I had to concoct a semi-border flavor. Use what you’ve got–just saying. These make a great sack lunch.

peppersblisteronionschopmixlunchRegional New Mexicans–how does this method compare to what you do? Better yet–want to share a family recipe with a traveling Texan? Do you thicken green chile sauce at all?

Quesadillas & New Mexico Green Chile Sauce, for putting on everything
Serves 2, with lots of extra sauce

For the sauce:
3-4 green peppers (anaheim or cubanelle, preferably)
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and finely diced
½ cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons flour
1 ½ cups vegetable broth
¼ teaspoon oregano
Salt & pepper to taste

For the quesadillas:
4 large tortillas (I used wheat, in attempt to uphold this guise of healthfulness)
1 cup of any cooked (or canned) bean you have around (mine are cannellini)
½ cup frozen corn
1 cup shredded cheese, any melted type (I used leftover mozzarella from the Roomz’s pizza)
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 pinch crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Make the sauce:

1. Prepare peppers: wash and dry thoroughly, use tongs to hold over open flame on gas stove, or roast at a high temp in an oven, rotating frequently. All sides should scald and blister. Immediately place in closed paper bag to steam. After 15-20 minutes, remove peppers and use your hands to wipe skins away (do not rinse–the water will wash away juices). Remove seeds, dice.
2. Sauté onions in light olive oil for 3 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and peppers. Cook for 30 seconds more.
3. Add cumin, stir. Add flour. Stir, making sure not to scald flour.
4. Add chicken broth and simmer for 3-5 minutes, until thickened and bubbly. Add chopped peppers. Cook for 1 minute more. Add oregano. Salt and pepper to taste.
5. Cover and let flavors mingle while preparing quesadillas.

Prepare quesadillas:

1. Puff two of the tortillas in a skillet on high heat (when they puff with air, they are ready). Wrap in foil or kitchen cloths.
2. Sauté corn in 1 Tablespoon of cooking oil for 2-3 minutes. Add cumin, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Add cooked beans and cook until heated through. Set aside in bowl. Rinse skillet and wipe dry.
3. Heat pan to medium. Spray with cooking spray. Lay one uncooked tortilla in pan. Quickly fill with half the beans and corn mixture and half the cheese. Top with a cooked tortilla. Cover with lid for 1-2 minutes. Remove lid and check if cheese is melted. Press together. Be careful not to scald bottom tortilla. Remove from skillet, slice, and wrap with foil until ready to serve.

Serve quesadillas with green chile sauce.

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