I spent the better part of last week in New Mexico for a work trip, observing classroom lessons about cooking and gardening, meeting with colleagues, school principals and leaders of local community organizations, and learning about the rich cultural history of the southwest. Exploring an unfamiliar place through the lens of food.
The beauty of the colorful desert landscape was inspiring and humbling; large pink-red rock formations, sagebrush and juniper lined the sandy highways on our drives between Albuquerque, Santo Domingo, Santa Fe and Gallup. Cone-shaped tent rock formations towered over us during an afternoon hike. New friends shared stories of ways they’re incorporating traditional crops in the garden and tribal culture in the classroom. Thoughtful conversations with colleagues over enchiladas drenched in chile sauce lasted long into the evening. I felt rejuvenated to my core, constantly reminded of what brought me to this work.
Teaching through a framework rooted in traditional preservation was a theme throughout the trip, and in that spirit, I tried to soak up as much knowledge about authentic New Mexican cooking as possible, so I could attempt to recreate a tiny piece of my experience at home. Having spent 10 years in the southeast, I'm fairly familiar with statewide rivalries, but the battle in the other southern corner is all about the chile peppers: red or green? Luckily, it's pretty acceptable to choose both, and I'm fortunate to have made some friends who promised to send freshly roasted chiles to Brooklyn come August.
Inspired by dreamy landscapes and my first taste of red and green chiles, I came home with an insatiable craving for more New Mexican food. Peppers are regrettably out of season in New York, but I made do with a package of dried New Mexican chiles, and splurged on a few fresh poblanos. The red sauce has a deeper spice than the green, but they compliment each other nicely, especially when combined on top of a savory kale fritter, the other star of this meal. Fritters are such an easy way to make a meal when the contents of your fridge are looking sparse. While they're not a traditional New Mexican dish, after devouring two servings of kale fritters in Albuquerque, I couldn’t resist including them. Top it all off with a sunny fried egg, a sprinkle of cotja cheese and a lime squeeze and brunch is served.
Kale Fritters with Red and Green Chile Sauce
For the red chile sauce:
> 2 ounces dried New Mexican chiles
> 4 cloves garlic
> 2 cups water
1. Soak the chiles in hot (almost boiling) water for 15 minutes, or until re-hydrated. Wearing gloves, remove the stems from the chiles.
2. Add all ingredients to a food processor and puree into a smooth consistency.
For the green sauce:
> 4 large green chiles (or any spicy pepper – I used poblanos)
> 1/2 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
> 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
> 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
> 1 tablespoon olive oil
> 1 cup vegetable stock
1. Set the broiler on high. Slice the peppers longways, removing the stem and seeds, and arrange them on a baking sheet. Roast until the skins are blistered. Remove them from the oven and let cool.
2. Saute the chopped onion and garlic in a small pot with olive oil until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Wearing gloves, carefully peel the skins off of the peppers. Chop the peeled peppers into small pieces and add to the pot with the onions and garlic. Add the cumin and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add the vegetable stock and simmer on low heat until the sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, and adding more stock as needed.
For the kale fritters:
> 1 bunch kale, about 12 stalks, stems removed
> 1/2 cup flour
> 1/2 teaspoon baking power
> 1 egg, whisked
> 1 tablespoon butter, melted
> Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a food processor, chop the kale into small pieces. Place the chopped kale into a large dish.
2. In a small bowl, combine the beaten egg and butter, and then stir into the chopped kale. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl, and add to the kale batter.
3. In a heavy skillet, heat some olive oil over high heat. Drop large spoonfuls of the fritter mixture onto the skillet and cook until the edges are golden. Flip, and fry on the other side.
To serve, drizzle a bit of red and green sauce on top of the fritters and top with a fried egg. Enjoy with a side of beans, sliced avocado and a squeeze of lime.
PS: Thanks to all of you who have sent congratulations and words of encouragement about my new online home. I'm still decorating, still arranging furniture, and not completely sure what my long term goals are for this project. For now, I'm grateful to have a space to create, share and connect. Writing recipes, taking photos and sharing reflections from the past week feels right, but I'm sure this space will evolve and grow as I do. Thanks for joining me on this journey.
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