Monday, May 21, 2012

Fiery Chili Peppers in Santa Fe

In the soft, clear light of a Santa Fe morning, Native American artisans spread their jewelry-laden blankets before the Palace of the Governors, built by Spanish settlers 400 years ago, while Anglo-American tourists stroll in the plaza below. This mix of cultures has given the city some wondrous arts and architecture, and a cuisine that calls on over 100 varieties of chili pepper.

Set high against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico, the oldest state capital in North America, established when Spanish conquistadors from Mexico founded a colony here in 1610. Its mix of cultural history and contemporary Southwestern style offers plenty for everyone to explore. At its heart lies the Plaza, lined on three sides by storefronts – a shopper’s delight for Southwestern clothes, jewelry, arts, and crafts. The surrounding streets are as likely to lead to the earthy curves of old adobe houses as they are to hotels and public buildings sporting Spanish Colonial or Pueblo Revival styles, their soft pink and beige facades gleaming against a brilliant blue sky.
Old mission churches, sanctuaries, and a magnificent cathedral evoke the city’s colonial roots.
There are excellent museums highlighting Native American traditions, culture, and contemporary arts, and a wealth of fine art galleries and museums.
Artists have long come to northern New Mexico for its clear light and spectacular hues. But in the restaurants of Santa Fe, only two colors matter: red and green, the colors of piquant chili peppers.
The local foods of the Native Americans have always used corn, beans, and above all, chili peppers, and these form the basis of the cuisine of New Mexico.
It’s the hot peppers that set these dishes apart from Mexican cuisine found elsewhere in the US. Instead of the standard tomato-based salsas, here you’ll find fresh sauces of puréed green or ground dried red chili peppers, lightly seasoned with garlic, salt, or herbs to let the smoky, pungent flavors of the peppers shine through. Great with burritos or enchiladas; try both the red and green salsas by asking for “Christmas.”
As well as forming the base for the zesty sauces of burritos, enchiladas, and meat entrées, peppers are used in mouthwatering dishes such as crispy deep-fried chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers) and carne adovada (marinated pork). Other exotic local ingredients, such as blue corn, nopales (prickly pear cactus), and chayote (vegetable pear), also tickle the taste buds; Southwestern cuisine offers plenty for everyone to explore.

Luminarias light up the 300-year-old adobe buildings in Santa Fe
A Day in Santa Fe
Santa Fe is brimming with art and history, and its world-class galleries form the second-largest art market in the country (after New York). It has a feast of striking architecture and several fascinating museums.
MORNING : Start at the Plaza to browse the Indian Market outside the Palace of the Governors, then step inside to visit the New Mexico History Museum. For more art, choose from the nearby Fine Arts Museum and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, then stroll along the Old Santa Fe Trail to see the miraculous staircase in Loretto Chapel and the 17th-century San Miguel mission chapel.
AFTERNOON : Go gallery-hopping along Canyon Road, or head to Museum Hill to visit the outstanding Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.
EVENING : Return to the Plaza for souvenir shopping and admire the facade of St. Francis Cathedral glowing in the setting sun. Take a patio table at one of the lively restaurant bars and relax with a margarita before dinner, soaking up the Southwestern atmosphere.
Getting to Santa Fe
There is limited commercial service to Santa Fe Municipal Airport, so most visitors fly to Albuquerque International Sunport and make the hour’s drive to Santa Fe by rental car or shuttle service.
Where to stay in Santa Fe
Santa Fe Sage Inn (inexpensive) has small but comfortable rooms in an adobe motel near downtown.
Hotel Santa Fe (moderate) is Native American– owned and features beautiful artworks.
Inn on the Alameda (expensive) has stylish adobe buildings and casitas (little houses).
201 W. Marcy Street;

An adobe building decorated Southwestern style with a turquoise-mosaic steer skull and ristras – bunches of dried peppers
Best Places to Eat New Mexico Cuisine
The Shed
Some of the best New Mexico cuisine in Santa Fe comes with loads of atmosphere at The Shed. Just east of the Plaza, a wooden gateway leads to a sunny, flower-filled patio and the old adobe hacienda, which dates from 1692. Its nine cozy, adjoining rooms are charmingly decorated with folk art, its niches and doorways are brightly painted, and there is alfresco dining on the patio in summer.
Family-owned for three generations, The Shed’s menu features time-tested recipes such as the smoky-flavored green chili pepper chicken enchiladas, and red chili pepper enchiladas topped with a fried egg, a local favorite. All of The Shed’s chili peppers are grown to order on local farms and ground daily in their own mill, making the food some of the freshest and tastiest around. It’s also very spicy. Traditional entrées are served with blue corn tortillas, and may be accompanied by posole (a hominy stew), calabacitas (a squash dish), and pinto beans. Reservations are advised for dinner. The always-busy lunchtime operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
113¹/² East Palace Avenue, Santa Fe; open 11 AM–2:30 PM & 5:30–9 PM Mon–Sat;

Fiery red salsa is often served with blue corn tortilla chips,made from a variety of corn that is unique to New Mexico

Also in Santa Fe
Several Santa Fe restaurants deserve a place on the “must try” list. La Choza (505 982 0909; inexpensive), The Shed’s little sister, near Railyard Park, is less busy but serves the same great food. Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen (;
moderate) is famous for its margaritas, but the menu is fantastic too; carne adovada (marinated pork) is a specialty. Tomasita’s (505 983 5721; moderate) is another local favorite, with delicious chiles rellenos.
Also in New Mexico
New Mexican food tends to be low to moderately priced, though dishes often feature in pricier Southwestern restaurants such as Doc Martin’s in the historic Taos Inn (www.; expensive), Taos. Orlando’s New Mexican Cafe (; inexpensive), also in Taos, serves superb dishes in hearty portions. In Albuquerque, head for the Church Street Cafe (www.churchstreetcafe.
com; moderate) in the Old Town.
Around the World
It’s hard to find authentic New Mexican cuisine outside the state of New Mexico, but Little Anita’s (; moderate) has several locations in Denver, CO. In Seattle, head for Santa Fe Cafe (; moderate) for blue corn tacos and chili eppers sourced from Hatch, New Mexico.
Cooking Classes
Whether you want to roast a chili pepper or stuff one for a chile relleno, the Santa Fe School of Cooking ( is the best place to learn the secrets of New Mexican cuisine. Courses at this internationally renowned culinary academy are taught by some of the city’s best chefs, but are geared toward recreational cooks as well as budding professionals. Courses range from morning or afternoon classes on a single topic or dish to the three-day Southwest Culinary Boot Camp, which covers everything from the history of the region’s foods to in-depth cooking techniques.
Demonstration and hands-on classes are offered. There are also classes on New Mexican cheeses and wines, as well as restaurant walking tours. Participants can stock up on regional ingredients at the adjoining market.

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