Locals mostly love it and most visitors want to try it. Northern New Mexican cuisine has a long and delicious history. Here’s a glossary, in alphabetical order, of food terms that will help you when dining out in Santa Fe.
Biscochitos (also spelled bizcochitos) are the official New Mexico State Cookie. These anise flavored shortbread cookies are traditionally served at Christmas, weddings and other celebrations. Traditionally they used lard and purists still do, although, these days shortening and butter are frequently substituted.
Blue corn enchiladas are traditional here and the New Mexican way is to stack and not roll. Then they are smothered with red of green chile (or both, known locally as Christmas).
Calabacitas, meaning “little squash,” is a New Mexican side dish made with yellow summer squash, corn and chile. Variations add onion, cheese and spices.
Caldillo (stew in English) is a thin stew made from green chiles and meat, traditionally pork and potatoes.
Carne Adovada is pork (usually shoulder) slow-cooked with a red chile chile. It is HOT but delicious, a New Mexican version of comfort food. Blue corn carne adovada blue corn enchiladas smothered in chile are divine.
Chile is the New Mexico State Vegetable. It’s one of the the most basic ingredients in New Mexican cooking and it shows up in a lot of dishes. Both green and red chiles come from the same plant. Green chile, the unripened stage of the chile plant, is roasted, chopped and used in cooking. The whole chiles are also stuffed for chile rellenos. Red (the fully ripened pods) is traditionally dried and then either flaked (chile caribe) powdered (chile colorado). If left whole, they are either dried and bagged or made into ristras (hanging strings of dried red chiles). Both red and green chile can be made into a sauce also called “chile”. This is used to smother just about anything and everything. If both are on offer and you can’t decide if you want red or green, order “Christmas” and you’ll get some of each.
It’s official Frito Pie was invented at the former Woolworth’s, now the Five and Dime, in Santa Fe. Roadfood gurus, Jane and Michael Stern, affirm this in their new book, Lexicon of Real American Food, where they still serve it the original way: in the bag. A small bag of the Fritos is opened, topped with chile and shredded lettuce, onion, tomato and cheese. Many places serve it heaped in a bowl or on a plate, but there’s something special about eating it out of the bag. Full disclosure: some naysayers say it originated in Texas.
Green chile cheeseburgers are are a basic burger, topped with roasted, chopped New Mexican green chile and cheese. Fresh-ground meat makes the best ones. They can be found everywhere in New Mexico including national fast food chains. The now defunct Bert’s Burger Bowl, opened in 1954, claimed to have been the first to serve them in Santa Fe. The Owl Café in San Antonio in southern NM claims to have invented them for Manhattan Project scientists who were working at the Trinity Sitet, where the first atomic bomb was tested at the end of WWII. If New Mexico has a signature food, this is it.
Menudo is a spicy stew made with beef tripe. For the uninitiated, tripe is the cow’s stomach lining. It’s not for the squeamish! The tripe, which is a white and a bit spongy, is cooked with chile and posole (a corn product similar to hominy). It’s a popular hangover cure in New Mexico.
Piñon is the nut from the piñon, a pine tree that grows in the high desert. The nuts, harvested from the cones, are used in cooking and baking. You’ll also smell the fragrance of burning piñon wood in the air during cold months. It’s a uniquely New Mexican aroma.
Posole (also pozole) is a corn and meat stew traditionally served at the holiday in New Mexico. It is usually made with pork but is often made with chicken. The corn kernels for posole are soaked in powered lime and water and then dried. As real posole can be hard to find outside of New Mexico and Mexico, hominy is sometimes substituted. As a holiday specialty it’s served with freshly made caribe, a sauce made from whole red chiles
Sopapaillas are a fried, puffy pastry. They can be stuffed with meat or chicken and smothered with chile, served as a side at a meal or eaten for dessert. They are great when accompanied with honey.
New Mexico Culinary Liaison and cookbook author, Cheryl Alters Jamison, rounds out our list with a couple Northern New Mexican food terms. She added:
Albondigas, the local version of meatballs, are often made with blue corn and mint. They are usually served in a broth laced with chile.
Natillas is a traditional New Mexican custard-like dessert is similar to flan but because it’s made with more milk and less eggs it’s got a thinner, less silky texture.
These are just a few of the terms that represent the unique experience of Northern New Mexico’s contribution to regional American cuisine.
There are New Mexican Restaurants on the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail for your Santa Fe dining pleasure. There other Northern New Mexico restaurants around the state on the list too.