I love goings-on as a tourist – I’m totally down to go to your local garlic festival or llama parade or county fair or fireworks display, and to sample some regional cuisine while I’m at it. So here’s a post on one of each, here this week in New Mexico, and I invite you to share yours in the comments.
First off, it’s harvest time right now for Hatch green chile peppers, a linchpin of New Mexico cooking – all over town the chile roasters are set up in parking lots, you can buy a bushel of peppers and have them roasted, which both loosens the skin and gives it a distinctive smoky flavor, great in stews and on burgers and enchiladas. Even with my partial anosmia I can smell the chile roasters, the smell is amazing, and so is the taste – like a lot of people with a reduced sense of smell, I’m drawn to spicy foods. Folks here might buy a bushel or bag of fresh roast chiles and freeze it; or they rely on Bueno or other brands of chopped green chiles in various heat levels from the grocery freezer case. When we moved back East after living here a couple decades ago, my flight home after visiting Santa Fe used to feature a box/suitcase in the cargo hold, carefully packed with insulation and frozen tubs of Bueno (hot, medium, and Harvest Roast if I could get it). They’re all jalapeno peppers, by the way – Hatch is a local variety, and as far as we’re concerned, well, it’s the best.
Hatch green chile is sold frozen from various brands, generally in the US southwest, although you might get lucky if you are elsewhere in the US. BONUS: if you’re Hatch-green-chile-sauce-curious, I’m going to add a DIY Sauce Hack here if you’re near a Trader Joe’s; otherwise skip ahead to Zozobra!
Trader Joe’s DIY Hatch Green Chile Sauce Hack: I figured this out a few years ago. Okay, so: green chile sauce (like you put on scrambled eggs, or enchiladas) is made of rendered green chiles, cooked down with other things like butter, onions and garlic. It’s a sauce, just like you cook down tomatoes, garlic, onions etc. to make a sauce for pasta. It can also be a base, like for green chile stew. Here in NM, grocery stores carry green chile sauce in jars, like pasta sauce, for people who don’t want the hassle. But as with pasta sauce, many people prefer to make their green chile sauce from scratch, using fresh or frozen jalapenos, because it’s tailored to them and arguably tastes better. ANYHOW. While living back East, one day I bought a jar of Trader Joe’s Hatch Valley Salsa, which is made from Hatch chiles, here’s a picture. It’s a terrible salsa; no crunch, too watery, although it’s got some lovely chunks of fire-roasted chile. HOWEVER. It’s a darn good base for a quick green chile sauce and they’ve already done most of the work (cleaning and chopping and cooking the chiles.) And I’ve seen it in TJ’s all over the US, near the chips usually, with their other salsas. (Sidenote: the TJs Salsa Verde doesn’t have the fire-roasted, chunky goodness, and the Aldi Hatch salsa has xanthan gum as a thickener and is … not good.) To make the TJs Hatch Valley salsa into a decent green chile sauce, you make a roux (butter and flour), sweat some diced onion, turn the heat down, add the whole jar of salsa which already has garlic and salt and a little lime in it, and … really, that’s all you need. Everyone’s got their own green chile sauce recipe, google a few, some folks add cilantro (ugh), some add a splash of chicken or beef stock (I use chicken), there’s no one “true” recipe for green chile sauce. You don’t need the usual lengthy simmer to meld everything perfectly, just throw it together, let the roux thicken it into a proper sauce, and eat. One jar’s the perfect amount for a batch of enchiladas.
Okay, on to Zozobra! This Friday night is the 97th Burning of Zozobra, and next week is Fiestas, so basically we’re heading into a week of local non-stop partying. People know that New Mexico’s light and landscape (okay, and remove from polite East Coast society) have been attracting artists for decades, the most famous of whom is Georgia O’Keeffe, along with a ton of beloved but probably less internationally famous artists (a favorite of mine is Gustave Baumann and his lovely woodblock prints); New Mexico has a big arts scene. Anyhoo, in the 1920s, artist Will Shuster erected a paper puppet figure they called Zozobra (or Old Man Gloom) at a private party and burned it to symbolically chase their cares away for the next year. In the decades since, Zozobra has gotten much bigger in size (both the puppet and the event) and melded with local culture, so now the burning is hosted by the Kiwanis in a local park; in 2019 more than sixty thousand people attended to watch a 50-foot-tall Zozobra meet his fiery end. (Allegedly Zozobra was the original inspiration for Burning Man – sorry about that!) Here’s another link to a great article about Shuster, the Cinco Pintores, the origin of Zozobra and its eventual incorporation into Santa Fe’s much older Fiestas tradition. The event was I think fully virtual in 2020, and this year due to delta they’re restricting crowd size, there’s a mask mandate, etc. We used to live near the park so we walked to the end of the street to watch; I’ll probably mask up and walk over this year and see what I can see from a distance, and I assume it’s broadcast on some news channel.
I already swung by and dropped my “cares” in the Gloom Box downtown – there’s a form, you write down what worries you want Zozobra to take with him when he goes up in flames, and they stuff all the notes inside Zozobra before the big event. People throw in tax documents, court orders, divorce papers, etc. There’s been at least one wedding dress. No, I’m not making this up, we take our gloom-burning seriously. There’s an online form if you want to get into the action (but it’ll cost you a dollar) – yes, they print all those out and stuff them into Zozobra, there’s even a pdf link if you need to upload your legal documents or a photo of your ex or whatever.
The charming Desfile de Los Ninos (the children’s pet parade) during Fiestas next week was also started by Shuster, which I did not know and just learned, googling Zozobra. My girls used to participate, dolled up in a wagon, with our dog. That’s just been cancelled due to COVID concerns, and fair enough. Sigh. Well, I’m getting into the spirit of Fiestas, even if we can’t have all the nice things due to delta.
Is there a fun local event where you live? A local food? A local event celebrating that local food? Tell me more!