So you bought a ristra. Now what? Are you just gonna hang it from your faux viga and watch as the pods slowly dry in the warm winter sun? Aw, come on! You gotta cook with those chiles!
Stringing chiles into ristras wasn't originally invented just to make your house look more Santa Fe than your neighbor's. Fleshy red chiles need air circulation in order to dry but, once they're dry, they'll last all year. (Have you ever kept a ristra longer than a year? The pods start to darken and look really icky.)
But listen, it's true; not many people actually cook with their ristras anymore. Why bother when you can stop at the grocery store and buy a small plastic bag of chiles for $3? Or buy the pods already ground? Or just go to Tia Sophia's and get a relleno under your chile sauce?
You should bother because it's fun, satisfying, economical and authentic. You can pluck a handful of chiles and make a pot of red chile sauce, or grab just a few, toss them in the spice grinder (or cleaned-out coffee grinder) and make a powder to sprinkle over your eggs.
As you gradually work your way up the ristra, you'll find yourself anticipating next year's crop, imagining all the delicious things you can do with your very own secret stash. Here are a few of my favorite ideas.
Velvety Red Chile Sauce
Homemade red chile is the best.
Makes about 3 cups
10 to 12 dried red New Mexican chiles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 to 3 cups beef broth (optional) or water
1 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican preferred
Pinch of ground cumin
Salt to taste
Honey or brown sugar to taste
Toast the chiles in a hot skillet or arrange the chile pods on a baking pan and place in a 250-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the chiles become very aromatic.
Remove the stems and seeds and place the pods into a bowl. Cover the chiles with very hot water and allow them to steep for 15 to 20 minutes to soften. Drain the chiles and discard the water.
In a heavy saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. Add the chiles and a couple cups of water or broth and simmer for 10 minutes.
Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Strain the mixture, if desired, for a smoother sauce. If the sauce is too thin, place it back on the stove and simmer until it is reduced to the desired consistency or, if too thick, add more water or broth.
Taste the sauce, adding salt to taste. If it’s bitter, add a teaspoon or two of honey.
Posole with Red Chile and Pork
If you don’t eat pork you can omit the meat, or substitute chicken. You can also
substitute canned hominy for dried posole if you’re in a rush.
Put the hominy in a large bowl and cover with plenty of lightly salted water. Allow to soak overnight.
In a large stockpot, sauté the onions and garlic in oil or lard. Add the pork and cook until the cubes are browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside.
Now put into the same pot the chiles, cloves, salt, drained hominy and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer at least 3 hours or until the hominy kernels are puffy and tender. Add more water if necessary.
Add the cooked pork and cook 30 minutes longer.
Serve hot and garnish with cilantro and onion.
Grilled Pineapple with Honey and Red Chile
Serve rounds of this sweet and spicy grilled pineapple with a little bit of vanilla ice cream.
1 fresh pineapple
Oil for the grill
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon red chile powder or more, to taste
Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to high and make sure the grill rack is very clean.
Using a heavy knife, trim the top and bottom from the pineapple, then slice from top to bottom, cutting away the bumpy outer skin. Cut the peeled pineapple into rings ½-inch thick.
Grill the pineapple rings for 5 minutes on each side, turning until the fruit picks up golden brown grill marks on each side.
Transfer the grilled fruit to a platter or individual plates and drizzle it with honey. Sprinkle red chile over the fruit to taste.
Salmon in a Packet with Moroccan Charmoula
New Mexico red chiles aren’t limited to New Mexican food. You can use them in any dish that calls for a little heat.
Charmoula: In a bowl or other container large enough to hold the salmon, mix together the cumin, coriander, paprika, chile powder, salt, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, lime juice and olive oil.
Add the salmon to the bowl, slather it with the charmoula and allow it to marinate for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
On a flat work surface, lay out 2 pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil, each 1½ feet long, on top of each other. Place the salmon in the middle of the foil and top with more of the charmoula. Fold the edges of the foil over the fish and crimp the edges to form a tight seal.
Bake the salmon for 15-20 minutes or until the fish, at the thickest part, is opaque almost all the way through. Remove from the oven, open the packet and cut into 6-8 pieces.