Green Chile and Zozobra

Chile roaster at the Farmers Market

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.

For scale: that’s a person (a fire dancer) at the bottom.

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!

  • Patty says:

    I want a Zozobra burning!!! I”m guessing the Day of the Dead fiestas should be pretty great there too. Maybe not. I really want to go somewhere where they have a great one. That is on my bucket list.

  • grizzlesnort says:

    Hatch Chile Sauce! Please enter me in your draw! 😉

  • Tara C says:

    Tht sounds like lots of fun! Maybe next year we can make a road trip through Santa Fe and check it out. Here in the boonies of Vancouver Island all we got is weekly farmer’s markets. Ocean Beach in San Diego has a fun Christmas parade the first weekend of December and an Oktoberfest in the fall. Who knows what the plague situation will be like then… I don’t plan anything more than a couple of days in advance any more.

    • March says:

      Yeah, not too much advance planning especially for events makes sense, who knows if they’ll get canceled. I’m just trying to be really careful, masking up and one day at a time.

  • Musette says:

    we have two, neither of which has any real relevance to anything. Late in July/August we usually have our local Corn Boil (because Hello, Midwest!) – the funniest part is watching the local toothless population actually chow down on ears of corn. It’s not a pretty sight. Also a lot of homemade pies (luckily I do not like pie – these are chockablock with sugar. In fact, one is a (wait for it) Sugar Pie.
    2nd is Fall Festival, which is held the 3rd weekend in September – it’s mostly just a vendor fair, held here in the park and is an excuse to be around a group of people and hope delta doesn’t rip through the pack like wildfire. I’m 2 houses down from the park so I can engage-adjacent.

    Yours sound WAY better, March!!!


    • March says:

      Ha, I think I’ve had Sugar Pie! (actually, I think a lot of pies could be called sugar pie). I’m not a fan of fruit pies in general, although I love me some pumpkin, sweet potato and pecan… ugh, not a huge fan of corn either, except on occasion. But hey, I’d still go to your corn boil and partake!

  • Tiara says:

    Had to laugh about Zozobra! Years ago, my husband was visiting family and they attended Burning of Zozobra. On their way back to the car afterwards, my brother-in-law was punched in the face by a drunk guy. Came out of nowhere and Bam! My husband has refused to go back. Traumatized!

    I love NM in the fall. Ristras strung everywhere, roasting chiles, golden aspens, and that gorgeous blue sky. During Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta, the mass ascension of balloons against the blue sky is a Incredible.

    Here in SW Ohio, we’re coming into Oktoberfest season. Almost every weekend there’s some community or group hosting a festival but the biggest is Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. Claims to be the largest Oktoberfest in the country. Don’t know if that’s true but it certainly draws from all over. As I’ve gotten older, having beer spilled on me has lost its appeal so we unless we can go early in the day, we avoid downtown.

    • Musette says:

      okay. I’m a fiend. But that made me LOL! xoxo

    • March says:

      I had the words “family friendly” in my Zozobra review and waffled … no accounting for drunks! I mean, we went, we saw a lot of families and kids there, but crowds + alcohol produce unpredictable results. I’m sorry your husband got punched! I just bought my first ristra, pequin chiles, still drying. And we drove down for the balloon ascension a couple of times, it’s glorious. I’d go to your Oktoberfest and eat some brats and sauerkraut!

  • cinnamon says:

    It’s great to have all this on your doorstep. We have a food festival in the spring (which hasn’t run for the past two years) which is great because this is both farm country and a hub for food ‘creatives’ (hate that word). Hoping it can happen next spring. One thing I loved about the area I lived in London was open gardens in late summer. All these weird London houses with big and small gardens showing how creative they’d been. A lot of fun.

    • March says:

      Oh, I would LOVE those open gardens, I’ve been to local variations (like a neighborhood garden club), getting a peek at everyone’s gardens you generally can’t see. And fingers crossed we’ll be back to food festivals in the not too distant future.

  • ElizaC says:

    I love the neighborhood/community/food festivals here in Seattle. They are the real heart of the city.
    My husband and I met at the local Greek Orthodox church’s fall food festival. We love the Polish club’s winter holiday lunch (pickle soup anyone?). Fry bread at the Duwamish Tribe longhouse cultural center. We live in West Seattle which is close to downtown but very much its own town. At Christmas we love to go to Alki beach and see the brightly lit Christmas boats. Some of Seattle’s grunge bands lived in West Seattle and will occasionally pop up at our local street fair or our amazing record store.

    • Musette says:

      I used to work a lot in Seattle and loved West Seattle!!! xoxo

      • ElizaC says:

        We are basically an island now ? The West Seattle Bridge (which carried about 100,000 cars per day over the Duwamish river) suddenly started having structural cracks. The city had to shut the bridge down with no advanced warning a little over a year ago. It has made leaving West Seattle a huge hassle – good thing it is still a fun place to live.

    • March says:

      Our local Greek Orthodox festival in DC was amazing, I loved to go eat all the foods. Yeah, Seattle’s food scene blew me away when I first visited in the nineties — all this stuff I’d never seen especially produce, just sitting right there. And I love the idea of the Christmas boats!

  • Portia says:

    This sounds so fun March.
    Fortunately we live in an extremely multicultural suburb/satellite city of Sydney. Through the year there are a bunch of events highlighting countries, their people, culture and food in the park where Jin proposed. We also usually have a WinterFest which has rides, food vans, mobile ice rink and stage.
    Sadly C19 has stopped them the last two years but we’ll be back at it again in no time.
    It’s a shame we haven’t been better to our indigenous people. It would be so good if their events could be more about a celebration of their culture. As it is most are aimed at awareness, education, pleas for help, protesting political choices, asking for equality and begging to be heard.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      I know Australia’s getting a walloping right now, and I hope vaccination’s sped up. Yeah, it’s a little bit wistful, writing about food fairs etc right now, since (if they’re happening at all) they’re reduced in scope. But it’s fall here and that always seems to trigger my yearning for these things. And the topic of indigenous people, always room for discussion and growth. I mean, I’m hardly oblivious to the marginalization of native peoples in this area, and how COVID’s playing out on the reservations and pueblos, while at the same time we’re celebrating their arts and dabbling in cultural appropriation.

      • Portia says:

        I always forget the USA has as bad a track record with their first nations people as us. It’s so overshadowed in out schooling and conversation by slavery. I’m sorry to be reminded.
        The only thing I know to do here in Australia is to give money to the Aboriginal Legal Service. I personally am too ignorant and far removed from first nations problems to make any difference. Any change is going to have to come from the arena that speaks the invaders language, law. So though I give very little, I give it and hope that it will help.