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At holiday time red and green has a special meaning in the Southwest - piping hot bowls of chili and dishes prepared with the pungent peppers. There are also dark chilies, for mole, a spiced mixture of chilies, cinnamon, spices, and chocolate for a turkey trimming like no other. Be sure to check the festive holiday recipes below!
“La Posadas” is the wonderful Mexican tradition that leads to the Christmas celebration. It starts December 16th and it symbolizes the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlahem. In Mexico processions are led by children carrying replicas of Joseph and Mary riding a burro. They proceed from one house to another, symbolically asking for shelter, and receiving a celebratory welcome which invariably includes some delicious treats.
In New Mexico the tradition finds friends and neighbors moving from one home to another sampling the holiday fare. At my mother-in-law’s the meal of choice was carne adobada. Pork meat smothered in red chili sauce, marinated, and baked at a low heat.
Her name was Charlotta and Christmas was her favorite holiday. She passed away several years ago, but I can’t see Christmas ornaments, or prepare some of the festive holiday dishes without thinking of her.
We would gather near her kitchen flanked by a Santa Claus collection of no small proportion, catch up with each other and the slower rhythm of the holiday season, and eat scrumptious carne adobada wrapped in tortillas with hot coffee or spirits.
Her movements behind a counter overhung by a painting of “The Last Supper” and decorated with a nativity scene were like a culinary ballet. She had the expressive hands of a dancer, and the patience of one who knows what it means to “slow cook.” She would repeatedly take the chili-smothered pork out of the refrigerator basting it lovingly with the pungent mixture, knowing that the time spent mixing the flavors would make the meat delicious.
On the stove next to red chili sauce she would simmer posole or hominy all day in a giant pot. The nutty corn taste of the posole compliments so many Southwestern dishes, including the chili-marinated pork.
The simplicity of the fare and the act of wrapping the meat in the tortillas was an inducement to share - the foods and each other. By evening on Christmas Eve, with logs burning in the fireplace and decorative holiday lights glimmering, we would feel the warmth of enjoying this meal and this very special holiday together.
Nothing signals autumn in my home in Denver like the smell of green chilies roasting on the grill. It’s an old gas grill that my husband converted to burn charcoal or wood, an arrangement that reverses progress in a way that’s at the heart of my chili roasting experience. In Denver folks go to Federal Boulevard to have burlap bags full of raw chili peppers cooked in revolving chili roasters that look like grilled iron barrels. But then you can't watch them plump, blister, and crackle, one at a time.
As the skins of the chilies bake, I turn them with tongs, again and again until the peppers crease and bend, and I can toss them limp into a plastic cache. Simmering in a trash bag my tasty treasure is loosened from its seared skin.
This experience of vermilion embers, green chilies, and the fragrance of pungency is more ritual than chore. And under golden trees, time seems miraculously suspended in my backyard. As I drop dozens of blackened green or already reddened chilies into the bag, I’m reminded of my journey to New Mexico where my chili was grown, and the many years I’ve made the journey during the harvest season.
The land of room enough and time enough" is a legendary description
of New Mexico that seems wedded to this chili roasting experience. I could
be tending a fire atop some desert mesa or prodding the embers of a kiva
stove in some ancient pueblo. The roasting chilies kindle me. I take time
to see smoke dance among the golden leaves, smell the fragrance of the sizzling
pods, hear them crackle as I step on noisy leaves, and know with smoky breath
what my tongue and taste are soon to remember -- the delicious flavor of
autumn roasted green chili!
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