Mexico’s Food Heritage North of the Border

A Basket of NuMex 6-4 Heritage Pods
A Basket of NuMex 6-4 Heritage Pods

Mexico had an enormous influence on what became the Southwestern cuisines of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  All the basic ingredients of northern Mexican cooking–tortillas, squash, beans, and chile peppers–were transformed into the regional cuisines of Tex-Mex, New Mexican, and Sonora-style.  It was in New Mexico, the oldest of all three of these cuisines, where chile peppers shine the brightest.  In New Mexico, with about 20,000 acres of chiles under cultivation (more than all the other states combined), chiles are beloved, especially at this time of year during the chile pepper harvest.  Following are the two classic sauces made with New Mexican pods.

Classic New Mexico Green Chile Sauce

Green Chile Sauce
Green Chile Sauce

This all-purpose sauce recipe is from the southern part of New Mexico, where green chile is the number one food crop and is used more commonly than the red form. It is used with enchiladas and is often served over scrambled eggs.

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 green New Mexican chiles, roasted, peeled, seeds and stems removed, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cups chicken broth or water

In a pan, saute the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of oil until soft.

Add the chile, cumin, and water and simmer for 1/2 hour. The sauce may be pureed in a blender to the desired consistency.

Yield: About 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Variations: To thicken the sauce, make a roux by sauteing 1 tablespoon flour in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, taking care not to let it burn. Slowly stir the roux into the sauce and cook to the desired thickness. Coriander and Mexican oregano may be added to taste. For added heat, add more New Mexican chiles or a serrano or two.

Classic New Mexico Red Chile Sauce

Red Chile Sauce
Red Chile Sauce

This basic sauce can be used in any recipe calling for a red sauce, either traditional Mexican or New Southwestern versions of beans, tacos, tamales, and enchiladas.

10 to 12 dried whole red New Mexican chiles

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 cups water

Place the chiles on a baking pan and put in a 250 degree F. oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the chiles smell like they are toasted, taking care not to let them burn. Remove the stems and seeds and crumble them into a saucepan.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Puree the mixture in a blender until smooth and strain if necessary. If the sauce is too thin, place it back on the stove and simmer until it is reduced to the desired consistency.

Yield: About 3cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Variations: Spices such as cumin, coriander, and Mexican oregano may be added to taste. Some versions of this sauce call for the onion and garlic to be sauteed in lard–or vegetable oil these days–before the chiles and water are added.

For more food history and recipes on the subjects of Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, just click on the image below.

AboutDave Dewitt

Dave is known in the media as "The Pope of Peppers" because of the 36 books he's written on chile peppers and spicy food around the world. He's also co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and editor and publisher of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite at His latest book, with chile breeder Dr. Paul Bosland, is The Complete Chile Pepper Book.

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