Holiday Feasts in New Mexico

Gourmet Girl - December 21, 2011

Christmas in New Mexico is rich with traditions, from farolitos and luminarios to steamed tamales served on Christmas Eve and turkeys trussed and stuffed, accompanied by gravy, mashed potatoes, pearl onions, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for Christmas dinner.

Tamales are America's oldest holiday food. They date back centuries, and by the time the Spanish made contact with the Aztecs, the tamale was a popular food consumed on the go by warriors and hunters. For centuries in New Mexico, families have held the annual tamalada, or tamale-making party, stuffing corn husks with pork or a combination of vegetables, then steaming them. Tamales are a favorite Christmas Eve meal.

Green chile and red chile sauces are another holiday staple in New Mexico, served with tamales, enchiladas, burritos, beef, chicken, pork dishes and more. The bounty of the fall harvest, red and green chile, is never better than when chile is cooked into savory sauces ladled over enchiladas or baked into rich meat entrees. A traditional Christmas Day feast in New Mexico often features the addition of posole, dried corn cooked into a thick stew or soup.

Biscochitos, anise-flavored cookies, are served as a Christmas treat, traditionally baked with lard and dusted with cinnamon sugar. When New Mexico became the first state to officially appoint a state cookie, it was the biscochito that received the honor in 1989. But the cookie dates back to 16th-century Spain's mantecosas, which means "buttery." At one time, these cookies were cut in a fleur-de-lys shape to honor Archbishop Lamy, New Mexico's first Archbishop, who was French.

After all the Christmas feasting is over, lime-cured hominy is served on New Year's Eve for good luck in the coming year.

Green Chile Sauce (From Summer in Santa Fe, by Janet Mitchell and Johanna Omelia)

This sauce pairs well with burritos and can be used as a base for stews and sauces.
3 cups roasted, peeled and diced fresh New Mexico green chile
1 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano)
1 ½ cups chicken broth
3 cups roasted, peeled and diced fresh New Mexico green chile
Salt, to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

Saute onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until softened. Stir in flour and continue cooking and stirring for 1 minute. Whisk in broth and add remaining ingredients, except cilantro. Simmer sauce for 15 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. Add cilantro and taste to adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, put the cubed pork, oregano, garlic, onion and salt into a large heavy pot and cover with water. Boil meat gently for 30 minutes. When the meat is soft, add the chile and hominy and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture is boiling nicely. 

To serve, ladle the posole into heavy bowls and serve with thinly sliced cabbage and radishes, quartered limes, oregano, chopped onion, and fresh corn tortillas.

Red Chile Posole (From Red Chile Bible by Audrey Jenkins and Kathleen Hanson)

1 pound posole (about 2 ½ cups dry or 5 cups cooked)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Chimayo chile powder
½ cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
¾ cup heavy cream
½ cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped
¼ cup mild cheddar cheese, shredded

Wash and drain the dry posole, put in large pot and cover with water by several inches. Bring to boil and simmer gently for 2-3 hours (adding water as necessary to keep the posole covered), until kernels have softened. Drain posole thoroughly and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter large glass baking dish or casserole. Melt butter in large, heavy skillet and sauté onions and peppers until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 3 minutes, then sprinkle with chile powder. Mix in posole, add stock, oregano, thyme, salt and black pepper and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in cream, remove from heat and stir in Monterey Jack cheese and ½ cup cilantro.

Pour into baking dish, cover and bake for 20-30 minutes, until thick and bubbly. Remove
cover, sprinkle the top with cheddar cheese, set the casserole beneath the broiler and
bake until cheese melts and starts to brown. Remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining
cilantro and serve.

Biscochitos (Makes about 24 cookies) (From Café Pasqual's Cookbook by Katharine Kagel)

1 cup lard, margarine, unsalted butter, all at room temperature, or solid vegetable shortening
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon aniseeds
2 egg yolks
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
3-4 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening or nonstick spray coating for baking sheet
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine lard or other fat and ½ cup sugar in bowl. Using a wooden spoon or an electric mixer on high speed, cream together until mixed well. Beat in aniseseeds, then eggyolks until thoroughly blended. Reduce mixer speed to low and, with mixer running, add orange juice, baking powder and then flour, mixing just until flour is incorporated.

Lightly grease baking sheet. Divide dough into two balls. Roll out each ball until ¼-inch thick on a floured surface. Cut out the cookies using a 2 ½- to 3-inch cookie cutter.Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving a 1/2 –inch space between them. Sprinkle with cinnamon and 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly brown. Cool on racks. Store in airtight container at room temperature.