Though I’ve dined at such great Southwestern restaurants as Hugo’s, La Mexicana, Sadie’s, and even the unlikely-named Sanitary Tortilla Factory, high standards don’t rule out an occasional trip to Taco Bell. It’s easily available Mexican-style food with a predictable satisfying taste. Even in Albuquerque, which has plenty of legendary New Mexican green and red chile dishes, I”d occasionally visit the Taco Bell on Route 66 across from the city’s Old Town tourist destination. Unfortunately, the tourists didn’t feel the same way, and the Taco Bell was bulldozed a year after it opened.
Still, no matter the quality of Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood, the taste of Taco Bell is hard to resist. I was excited to try the new Quesalupa, which is a chalupa wrapped in a flour shell that’s been stuffed and cooked with a thin layer of melted Pepper Jack cheese.
When I unwrapped my spicy-beef Quesalupa, I was put off by the look of the chalupa shell, which seemed too brown, like it had been slightly overcooked. However, the toasted pastry-like flavor of the shell puts the Quesalupa into a higher level than the standard Taco Bell taste.. I would be very pleased to have this served as a dish in a more authentic Mexican restaurant. The toasted flour cheesy chalupa shell is just that good.
The Quesalupa is my all-time favorite item at Taco Bell, and I am looking forward to trying all of the options, with chicken or steak, and mild, hot, or green sauce. The Quesalupa is a fast-food classic.
You may have an abuelita in Santa Fe who makes green chile sauce better than this, but to make your own requires a delicate balance of savory onion and garlic with the sweetness and pleasant burn of roasted green chiles. A tomato adds just the right touch of acidity. Many recipes add tart tomatillos, but that’s not New Mexican.
As a cameraman for an Albuquerque TV station, I traveled all around New Mexico, ate at a lot of cafés, and interviewed many cooks (and a few grandmothers) to develop this recipe.
If you’re ever in Santa Fe, I recommend the huevos rancheros with red and green chile at Cafe Pasqual’s (The breakfast center of the universe). The roast beef burrito smothered with green chile at Tomasita’s looks like a hot mess, but it’s amazing.
Best Hatch Green Chile Sauce Recipe
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1 heaping cup of roasted and chopped green chile (9 or 10 chiles)
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon instant tapioca (best) or regular flour
½ cup Swanson chicken stock
½ cup water
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano, dried or fresh chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1. Add olive oil to a sauce pan, turn heat to medium, and heat oil for 2 minutes.
2. Add onion, and saute until it turns golden (about 8 minutes). Don’t worry if it turns a little brown–it’s caramelized.
3. Stir in the garlic and turn the heat down to low. Add the tapioca or flour, and stir frequently for 4 minutes. Add the tomato, green chile, chicken stock and water, stir, and turn heat back to medium.
4. Finally, add salt, cumin, oregano and black pepper, then stir. Let it cook for about 5 minutes on medium. You’re done, that’s it. Green chile sauce stays fresh for 4 days in the fridge, or you can freeze it and reheat it with no loss of flavor.
Flour is the traditional thickener for green chile sauce, but tapioca makes it look shiny and bright, and doesn’t change the taste. The chile sauce will be gluten-free.
The Desert Hurricane
Just about every weekend we make a breakfast with bacon, fried eggs, and cheddar cheese on top of a pile of Ore-Ida hashbrowns. Then we pour hot green chile sauce over the top. It’s called a Desert Hurricane, and it’s stunning.
If you want to make a Green Chile Cheeseburger, use chopped green chiles (not this sauce), onion, mustard, tomato, and pickles. Ketchup is not recommended, as the tomato already provides that taste. The preferred cheeses are Cheddar, American, or Provolone.
Guacamole is a balance of delicate flavors.. A big secret of great guacamole was revealed to us in a small café on the High Road to Taos, where the guacamole was made tableside, by a woman whose family had lived in the small village for hundreds of years. After slicing up the avacado, she chopped a tomato, and put the pieces in a sieve to drain the juice, while she mixed the rest of the ingredients. “Tomato juice and avocado don’t go together,” she said.
2 avocados, ripened
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 serrano chile pepper, finely minced
2 Tablespoons onion, finely minced
1 small tomato, peeled, chopped, and drained (preferably a Campari tomato)
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped (optional, especially if you hate cilantro)
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon salt (Morton’s Sea Salt is cheap and pure-tasting)
black pepper to taste
Cut avocados in half, remove the pit, then scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients, except tomato. Mash all the ingredients together, leaving a few small chunks of avocado. Stir in the drained tomatoes.
Serve with fresh warm tostada chips (Tostitos Restaurant-Style Tortilla Chips are easy to find).
Choose avocados that are bright green, but just beginning to turn dark. Leave them in a plastic bag overnight, until they begin to dark with touches of light green, or no light green at all. If you squeeze them and they are slightly soft, refrigerate them. They will be ready to make into guacamole for at least a week, but don’t wait too long!
Many fast-food restaurants serve breakfast burritos, with eggs and bacon wrapped up in a soft flour tortilla, with maybe some chiles or hot sauce added. They are warm, bland, and satisfying.
Breakfast tacos start the day with a fresh hot buzz, and can be made very quickly on mornings when kids are hustling to get ready for school and you feel like you are running late. You know that feeling.
Quick Breakfast Tacos
2 corn tortillas
1 teaspoon of milk
Shredded Cheddar or other cheese
Salt and pepper
Bottled hot sauce (Cholula or Tapatio is good)
Preheat a skillet on medium heat with a few drops of water in it. When the water boils, it’s hot enough.
If you are using a non-stick skillet, melt a pat of butter and spread it around. If your skillet is metal, pour a teaspoon or two of corn or peanut oil, and spread it around.
Put a corn tortilla in the skillet, and fry it on medium heat for a minute or two. Flip and fry on the other side.
Remove and place on a plate. (Have a paper towel on the plate if you want the tacos less greasy)
Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the second tortilla.
Put the second tortilla on the plate, overlapping the first tortilla, so that you can put egg on it properly.
Scramble the egg, milk, salt, and pepper.
Add a tiny bit more butter or oil to the pan to cook the egg.
Pour in egg, and stir. Turn off the heat and let the residual heat cook the egg while you stir it.
Divide the scrambled egg evenly onto the two tortillas.
Add cheese, hot sauce, and more salt and pepper if you wish.
On a good late-summer day in New Mexico, you’ll smell tortillas being made, green chiles being roasted, and the smoke from burning piñon wood wafting in the air. Or maybe just the green chiles. That’s good enough.
Heat your grill for 5 minutes on high, or fire up the charcoal. Place the green chiles directly over high heat for about 5 minutes, then flip and cook on the other side for 5 minutes more.
The outside of the chiles will be scorched and black, but the flesh of the chiles will cook and make steam, which will make the skins separate from the flesh. Some chiles will pop, or the skins will open up, and that’s good.
Grills usually have hot spots, so move the chiles around until they get charred and blistered. The color will go from a vibrant green to a dull olive-green.
Remove the chiles that have cooked and drop them into a plastic bag, or a covered plastic 5-gallon bucket, and lightly close bag or bucket. The steam will help the skins separate from the chiles.
Don’t worry, the hot chiles won’t melt plastic bags of any sort.
When the chiles are cooled enough to touch, rip off or cut off the stem end, and slide the skin off of the the chiles. You can either tear open the chiles and rub out the seeds, whack them on the edge of a sink to make the seeds fly out of the open end, or hold the chiles by the tip with one hand, and slide the chile between the index and middle finger of the the other hand to squeeze out the seeds.
After cleaning the chiles, you can save them whole, or chop them for chile sauce. To prevent freezer funk, put chiles in thick freezer bags and wrap the bags in aluminum foil. Each chile weighs about 1 ounce, so about 8 or 9 chopped chiles make a cup.
It’s best to clean chile outside, dropping the seeds and skins into a plastic-bag line trash can.
Chiles can be roasted in an oven, directly under the broiler, for very good results, though your kitchen might get very warm.
If you clean more than a few pounds of chiles, use plastic or latex gloves to clean them, or your hands will become numb for a short while. These gloves are available in the broom and mop section of a grocery store.
If you rub your eyes while peeling chiles, don’t worry, you’ll never do it again.
Outside of New Mexico, Hatch green chiles are sold as either hot or mild. The best way to test it is to break open a raw chile and eat a piece to see if it’s a heat level you like. The heat of Hatch green chiles change every year, depending on the weather in New Mexico.
Be careful if you’re not in New Mexico, and you have your chiles roasted in a mechanical drum roaster. Some of the operators will roast them at too high a temperature, and the skins will get over-roasted and break into little black fragments that stick to the flesh and a beast to remove.
Some people don’t bother to peel the chiles after roasting, and put them in the freezer with the skins on. That works just fine.
A hot pepper in the Southwest and Mexico is a chile. Texans make pots of chili, with meat and no beans, and chillies are those little hot peppers that the Spanish spread around the world to Asia and other continents.
Chileheads will put green chile into just about anything. A co-worker once put out a plate of chocolate brownies with green chiles (they all got eaten).
I’m not that obsessed, but there here are some tested ideas, other than green chile sauce (recipe here), burritos, enchiladas, rellenos, huevos rancheros, and other historic New Mexico dishes.
Tuna salad — just add to your favorite recipe
Macaroni and cheese
Cheeseburgers, with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mustard (no ketchup)
Grilled cheese sandwiches
Open up a whole, fresh-roast green chile, salt and pepper, lay a slice of provolone, jack, or cheddar cheese on top, roll it up and eat it while it’s warm (not hot).
This sounds awful, but sauté some banana slices in butter or oil, add some chopped green chiles and heat them up, and put the mix over fried eggs on a corn tortilla. It’s a simplified version of huevos motuleños.
What Not to Do With Green Chiles
Green chile seems like a natural to put into an Italian tomato sauce to make it spicy, but green chile is terrible in Italian food. However, dried red chile flakes are a staple in spicy Italian dishes.
By the way, “Hatch” green chiles are just the chiles grown around Hatch, New Mexico. They are no better or worse than any New Mexican variety of green chiles grown anywhere else in the state, for example, Lemitar. “Hatch” is an effective marketing term.