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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Santa (Fe) Chiles

By Greg Ciurczak (Guest Blogger & Wine-Knows client) 

“Will that be green or red, sir?” I overheard the waitress ask the gentleman sitting at the table next to me.  “Hmmmm, I can’t decide,” he said.  “Okay, let’s make it Christmas,” he replied.   Christmas?  I thought to myself.  It was September in Santa Fe, so what was with the reference to the holiday? 

I scoured the menu and it was peppered with numerous meal selections offering green and red chiles but I did not see any reference to “Christmas.”  I ordered the Flat Chicken Enchiladas…a kind of local lasagna made with corn tortillas.  The waitress arrived, I gave her my order and on cue I received the same inquiry the gentlemen sitting next to me had received.   “Green or red, sir?”

I stared up at her blindly. “Excuse me?” I stammered.  “Green or red chiles on the enchiladas---which do you want?  Or, would you like both?“  “Both?” I answered with a question because I wasn’t quite sure.   “Okay dear, in the future, if you want both, just say Christmas.”  So there is was, the chile code deciphered; green and red chiles served together was a St Nick’s specialty.  And a culinary Christmas it has been since this remarkable chile awakening experience thirteen years ago.   

Although there are some two hundred varieties of chiles, my favorite is the New Mexico Green Chile, about 4-6 inches long.  Picked green in their “unripe” state (before turning red), the skins are tough.  They are often roasted which makes them easier to peel, but the most important reason for charring them is that it imports a delicious smoky flavor.  Tagged with numerous names like Big Jim, Rio Grande and Sandia, these chiles have a heat index ranging from mild to moderate or hot.  Throughout New Mexico they are offered with everything from burgers, pizzas, bagels and French fries…to haute cuisine worthy of a Michelin star.

Which wines pair best with New Mexico’s chiles?  Wine pairings with spicy recipes follows a rule of thumb that the spicier the food the colder and sweeter the wine.  Wines with lower alcohol and higher acidity counteract the burning sensation of chile.  This makes both Riesling and Gewürztraminer good choices.  Another wonderful option is a sparkling wine which pair wells with the heat of the moment due to its generally high acidity.   If you are thinking red, less oak & less tannins are desired.  Barbera or Beaujolais, along with Zinfandel will all pair nicely with spicy dishes.

You can find New Mexican chiles in your supermarket frozen foods department.  If frozen isn’t your thing, you may want to consider a visit to this land of beautiful high desert panoramas, extraordinary culture and captivating chile-based cuisine.   Can’t decide on when to visit?   Keep in mind Christmas.

Feliz Navidad!

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