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Posted November 15, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News
 
 

GARCIA: Seeing red and turning green with envy over N.M. chiles


JOSEPH GARCIA
Tucson Citizen

I await the angry phone calls, e-mails and letters to the editor.

I half expect an organized protest at the newspaper’s front doors, maybe even getting called into the publisher’s office to explain the firestorm.

But the truth is the truth, and I believe it must be stated, even – or perhaps especially – when it’s hard to swallow.

And the truth is:

You just can’t get good green chile in Tucson.

There, I said it.

Sorry, but Arizona is a red state when it comes to chile. It just can’t compete with its neighbor New Mexico, a green state if ever there was one.

No offense, but most Mexican restaurants in the Old Pueblo wouldn’t know what to do with a green chile except to wait for the pepper to turn red.

So, what makes me an expert on green chiles (besides knowing they’re part of the Capsicum genus, like eggplant and tomatoes, and – sorry, Christopher Columbus – not a pepper any more than Native Americans are “Indians”)?

Well, first off, my ancestors are from northern New Mexico, which was introduced to green chiles in the 1500s. They lived in a little farming community named Alameda just north of Albuquerque, long before the hungry city swallowed it up.

There’s a “Garcia Street” street sign in Alameda, named after my grandfather, who grew chiles. My late father even had a little chile garden in his back yard in Los Angeles.

From an early age, we were taught that few things are more sacred or magical on this planet than green chile.

Loaded with vitamin C (one green chile pod can contain six times as much vitamin C as an orange, according to the New Mexico Journal of Science) and provitamin A, E, B, (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), green chiles should be in any recipe for health and happiness.

Aztec medicine men knew green chile can prevent/cure everything from the common cold to poor blood circulation to migraines to infidelity. (Good cooks of green chile are rarely divorced, at least not for long.)

But beware: Like pure excitement, green chile was never intended for the meek. Hot green chile can burn your mouth. And when you’re roasting and peeling them, they can burn your eyes – or any other body part you might inadvertently touch or rub.

Purists will tell you to cook green chile with pork (I prefer beef), the perfect complement to beans or eggs – or simply eaten “as is” with a warm flour tortilla. But green chiles are versatile. Strips are perfect for cheeseburgers, and chopped green chiles are great when mixed with corn and meat for a Mexican stir-fry. You can even add diced green chiles to New England clam chowder, transforming it into New Mexi-land clam chowder (my invention). And what would chile rellenos be without, well, a chile?

Recipes abound (my mom’s are the best, of course).
But please, please, don’t call it “chili.” That’s Texas talk, where they mix dried chili pods, tomato paste, ground beef, onions, celery, kidney beans and God know what else into a strange stew. Maybe that’s all they had to eat at the Alamo as a last supper.

When you’re talking chile, you’re talking New Mexico. Every Labor Day weekend, the Hatch Chile Festival celebrates the latest crop, which last year amounted to 85,000 tons and $200 million in revenue, according to the New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Service.

Hey, if red chile is your thing – “better red, than dead” – God bless you. You should feel right at home in red-hot Tucson. (Personally, red chile makes the insides of my belly boil.)

Just don’t put “green chile” on the menu, because to green chile lovers, it’s a disappointment bordering on false advertisement. Sort of like selling New York pizza in Benson.

Tucson may be the big enchilada when it comes to most Mexican food, but not when it comes to green chile.

No, I’m not going to move to New Mexico, thank you. I’ll just continue to order the chicken chimichanga like I always do and say nothing more on the matter, politely chewing with my mouth closed.

Senior Editor Joseph Garcia’s column appears Mondays. Contact him at 573-4561 or at jgarcia@tucsoncitizen.com.


Nick Lindauer

 
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