Red or Green?
Red or Green? It may seem like an unusual question, but it’s one you’ll undoubtedly be asked when you order a meal at a traditional New Mexican restaurant. What your server wants to know is whether you’d like your enchildadas (or maybe burrito, huevos rancheros, or stuffed sopapilla…) topped with red or green chile.
Both types—red and green—chile come from the same plant. When New Mexicans talk about “chiles,” they’re referring to long chile peppers with names like “Big Jim,” “Rio Grande,” and—most commonly—“Hatch,” for the region surrounding this small town in the southern part of the state that is known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” These peppers are similar to what are known as an “Anaheim” in other places.
Green chiles are harvested before they’re quite ripe. After they’re roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced, they’re cooked with onion, garlic, chicken broth and (sometimes) tomatoes to make a savory green chile sauce.
For red chile, the chiles are allowed to remain on the plant longer, until they change to a deep, red color. Then they are harvested and allowed to dry (often in the colorful hanging strings, or ristras that are so emblematic of New Mexico). Red chile is sold in bags containing the dried pods, or processed into a powder. Either can be used to make red chile sauce.
So which should you choose?
Well, it depends. The flavors are quite different, so it really comes down to your personal preference. I generally opt for red chile on huevos rancheros, and green on chicken enchiladas…but that’s just me. If you’re unsure, you can have it both ways—and sound like a local—when you ask for “Christmas,” which will get you half and half—red on one side of the plate and green on the other.