New Mexico Hatch chile peppers flavor the delicious food that Gina Kuwata serves. She and her husband, Seiji, have three sons and live in Lee’s Summit. Twenty-five years ago, Gina, a stress management coach, moved from New Mexico to the Kansas City area, but she still frequently prepares and serves New Mexican cuisine.
Q: You mention New Mexican cuisine. What is that?
A: It is different from Mexican and Tex-Mex foods as it relies more heavily on New Mexico peppers, especially the Hatch chile.
Q: What are Hatch chile peppers and how do you use them?
A: The Hatch chile is a specific green chile from the Hatch Valley in southern New Mexico. While similar in appearance to other green chile peppers, such as the Anaheim or Pueblo chile pepper, their flavor and skin are distinctive, and these characteristics make them a favorite. They are in season and available fresh in the late summer and early fall, or they can be purchased in jars of salsa year-round.
The fresh peppers are first fire-roasted. When in season, some local grocery stores will roast them for you or you can roast your own. Once roasted, remove the skin, stem, membranes and seeds and chop, using a food processor. Once chopped, they can be frozen for use in recipes year-round.
When Hatch chile peppers are not available fresh, you can purchase jars of Hatch Valley salsa from grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s or Sprouts.
Q: The queso recipe you are sharing tastes different from typical queso. What makes it so flavorful?
A: The Hatch chile peppers give a depth of flavor that is unique. Also, fire-roasting both the chile peppers and the tomatoes adds to the flavor. I always freshly shred or grate the cheese, instead of buying shredded cheese in packages, as it tastes better.
Q: Do you serve chile peppers often?
A: Yes! If you are from New Mexico, this is “our soul food.”
I serve the chile peppers as sauce on eggs, as a flavor boost in soups, with avocados and in dishes such as the queso and Frito Pie. The chile peppers are packed with nutrition, especially vitamin C, so we eat some form of them almost daily.
Q: You mention entertaining and your kitchen is filled with beautiful, distinctive dishes. Do you enjoy entertaining?
A: I love to entertain, and when my guests leave, I hope they leave with “happy hearts and happy bellies.” I use artisan-inspired dishes, especially in colors of the Southwest, and use Nambé silver, which are beautiful pieces from Santa Fe.
When serving the New Mexico Frito Pie, I typically make a buffet, so guests ladle beans, chile sauce and toppings, as they desire, into bowls. I serve the queso in a slow cooker to keep it warm.
Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published eleven cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com . Email them at KCComeIntoMyKitchen@gmail.com
New Mexico Hatch Green Chile Con Queso
Makes about 6 cups
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 cup diced, drained, canned, fire-roasted tomatoes or 1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup chopped extra-hot roasted Hatch green chile peppers
1 16-ounce box processed American cheese, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 cup heavy cream, whole milk or half and half
Salt to taste
Corn or tortilla chips
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook about 30 seconds, stirring once or twice. Reduce to medium-low heat. Stir in the chopped Hatch chiles, cheese cubes, cream and salt. Heat, stirring frequently, until the cheese has melted and the mixture is creamy.
Serve queso warm, with corn or tortilla chips.
New Mexican Frito Pie
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound dried pinto beans
For the New Mexican Red Chile Sauce:
1/2 cup New Mexico red chile powder (see tip)
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or water, divided
2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground oregano
Salt to taste
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
Grated or shredded cheddar cheese (preferably freshly grated)
Chopped yellow onion
Sort the dried beans and discard any stones or shriveled beans. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water. (Use about twice the volume of water as beans.) Allow beans to soak overnight. (For a quicker preparation, place the beans in a large saucepan and cover by 3 inches of water. Heat until boiling, reduce heat, cover and boil gently 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to stand 90 minutes.)
Drain the beans and discard the water. Place the beans in a saucepan and add fresh water to cover by about 2 inches. Heat until boiling, reduce to a simmer, partially cover and allow to cook 3 to 4 hours or until beans are tender. (Watch to ensure water is still covering the beans and they are not sticking to the pan; add additional water as necessary.) Drain.
New Mexican red chile sauce:
In a small bowl, whisk together the chile powder and 1 cup of stock, whisking until smooth; set aside.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds more. Stir in the cumin and oregano. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
Stir in the chile mixture and the remaining chicken stock. Stir until combined. Heat until simmering, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often about 20 minutes or until the chile sauce is the consistency of a thick sauce. Season to taste with salt and stir in the browned ground beef. (The sauce will not thicken like a cream-based sauce, but will not be watery.)
To assemble the pie:
Layer the beans and the red chile sauce in individual serving bowls. Top with grated cheese, chopped onions and corn chips.
▪ New Mexico red chile powder is a specific type of chile powder. Look for brands such as Los Chileros, labeled New Mexico red chile powder, at Whole Foods or other specialty stores.
▪ Cooked pinto beans freeze well, so make plenty and freeze for other uses.