What sets New Mexican food apart from other cuisines is the custom of incorporating chile peppers — whether crushed, roasted, pickled, fresh, dried or powdered — into just about any dish. These fruits thrive in New Mexico because of the hot, dry days and steady, cool temperatures at night due to the state’s high altitude.
Red and green sauces are drawn from the same peppers at different levels of ripeness.
It is a popular belief that chiles get hotter as they ripen, but the heat of each pepper is dependent on where it is grown.
Farmers pick the chiles green off the plant; they can then be roasted and peeled to make dishes such as rellenos or cut into chunks to make sauces, but the alternative is to let the peppers dry until they turn a dark, leathery red. Most people regard bundles of these dried chiles, known as ristras, as the design element that epitomizes Southwestern charm.
Most Americans are familiar with green Hatch chiles, sourced from farms in the town of Hatch and other villages in the fertile Rio Grande Valley, in the southern part of the state. On this visit, though, I was introduced to a rare, hard-to-get strain of chile.