ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Does the thought of apple pie with green chile and piñon nuts make your mouth water? How about baked tamales with Oaxacan mole? Green chile stew? Blue corn polenta?
If so, you’re in luck.
“The New Mexico Farm Table Cookbook: 100 Home-Grown Recipes from the Land of Enchantment” showcases appetizing dishes like these, along with in-depth profiles and photographs of the chefs, farmers, restaurants, markets and businesses that together paint, in author Sharon Niederman’s words, a portrait of New Mexico’s foodscape.
The emphasis here is on fresh, local and sustainably grown produce. A longtime New Mexico resident, Niederman wrote the book, the third in a series of state-specific farm table cookbooks, with collaborating photographer Kitty Leaken. “We took some tremendous road trips,” Niederman says. “We had a blast.”
At establishments where she had a favorite dish, she requested the recipe. While some did not want to give away trade secrets, others were generous.
Kathy Knapp, of the Pie-O-Neer Café in Pietown, donated her pie crust recipe, Santa Fe’s Il Piatto its signature pumpkin ravioli. Bobby Olguin of Manny’s Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio shared his green chile cheeseburger secrets. Other contributors ranged from Albuquerque’s Los Poblanos’ award-winning chef Jonathan Perno to the Dixon Co-operative Market.
Recipes include old favorites like Frito pie, calabacitas and sopa de tortilla as well as others that provide fresh takes on traditional ingredients (a cucumber jalapeño margarita, anyone?). All are appropriate for novice and expert cooks, and ingredients go far beyond the expected beans, corn and red and green chile to include honey, pistachios, lavender, garlic, apples, pears, sweet peas and goat cheese. Local beef, lamb and buffalo are also featured, as are herbs.
N.M. farm life
New Mexico’s culture and geography are not conducive to industrial farming of the type seen in Iowa and Kansas, Niederman says. Instead, the state has a long tradition of small farms and village life, and 97 percent of New Mexico ranches are family-owned.
“What’s old is new” here, she says, adding growers rely more on traditional wisdom than technology and share stories and information as a way of caring for themselves.
First-generation farmers such as Avrum Katz and Kristen Davenport of Boxcar Farm near Taos bring new energy to the state’s food scene, and urban transplants like former San Franciscan Jake Politte, now proprietor of Silver City eatery 1zero6, take that trend further, fusing traditional and world food traditions – in his case, New Orleans, Oaxaca and Thai.
But then, New Mexico cuisine has always been a “grand mixture,” Niederman says, citing the state’s Anglo, Spanish and Native American populations, but also its Southeast Asian and Central American communities and Basque and French influences.
Fusion cuisine goes to the root of who we are and is constantly evolving, she says, pointing to the diversity of restaurants that continue to open throughout the state.
New Mexico is also home to well-known food writers such as Deborah Madison and Stanley Crawford, and the state has had a “chef-grower dialogue for a long time.”
What surprised her most in her travels, is how quickly food consciousness has taken hold in the general public, Niederman says. “People are demanding and willing to pay for really interesting ways of eating.”
Citing the growth of farmer’s markets, school and urban gardens, and purposeful use of water, she says, there’s tremendous interest in what we eat and how we grow it.
“Food is our best medicine,” she adds. “It’s easy to get in a cooking rut. Challenge yourself. Trying something new can be delightful.”
Among Leaken’s many striking photographs, those of the Blessing of the Animals and the Blessing of the Fields at the spring festival of San Ysidro, Patron Saint of Farmers, stand out.
The mindful approach to feeding ourselves illustrated by those images is at the core of the book, Niederman says, the “understanding we are all part of this sphere, this cycle. A natural kind of spirituality when it comes to eating.”
“We have to take care of ourselves, we have to take care of the earth.”
Salmon Frontera with Blue Agave Tequila
¼ cup fresh Key lime juice
¼ cup blue agave tequila
1½ teaspoons ground New Mexico red chile (medium to hot)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, rubbed and crushed
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ medium-size yellow onion, grated
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
4 salmon fillets
Olive oil for frying
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
1 serrano chile, minced
½ white onion, chopped
1 tablespoon Key lime juice
Chopped fresh cilantro
Pinch of sea salt
Prepare the salmon: Mix together all the ingredients, except the salmon and olive oil, and rub on the fillets; marinate for 1 to 3 hours.
While the salmon marinates, prepare the salsa: Combine all the ingredients and let sit for at least an hour to blend the flavors.
Pan-fry the salmon in olive oil over medium heat, until lightly browned, then flip and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Top with the salsa and serve.
COOK’S NOTE: Wild-caught salmon is preferred because it has better flavor and texture.
– From 1zero6, Silver City
Beer-Marinated Carne Asada with Ancho Chile Sauce
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup fresh lime juice
Grated zest of 1 lime
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground oregano
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup Freestyle Pilsner
1 flank steak (about 2 pounds)
Canola oil, for oiling grill
¼ cup chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped scallions
¼ cup ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
½ bunch fresh cilantro
¾ cup Freestyle Pilsner
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Juice and zest of 2 limes
½ kiwi fruit
¼ cup mirin
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
Prepare the marinade: Combine all the ingredients, except the pilsner, in a food processor. Pulse a few times until combined. Add the pilsner and pulse until just combined.
Prepare the steak: Pour the marinade over the flank steak and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours, turning the meat occasionally.
While the meat marinates, prepare the salsa: Combine all the ingredients in a medium-size bowl and set aside.
Pull the steak out of its marinade about 30 minutes before grilling to bring the meat to room temperature, while you preheat and oil the grill. Grill the steak over high heat for about 4 minutes per side. The internal temperature of the steak should reach about 140 degrees F. Let the meat rest for a few minutes before slicing. Serve with the salsa.
COOK’S NOTE: This fresh, spiky marinade lifts an ordinary steak into a higher realm of flavor – an excellent choice for the grill.
– From Santa Fe Brewing Co., Santa Fe
Pie-O-Neer Pecan-Oat Pie with Sweet Potatoes
Makes 2 pies
(Makes 5 single crusts)
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) butter
¾ cup lard
1 teaspoon vinegar
SWEET POTATO LAYER
2 medium sweet potatoes, baked and peeled
About ½ cup heavy whipping cream, more or less
Sprinkle of ground nutmeg
2 unbaked pie shells
½ cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup light Karo syrup
1 cup dark Karo syrup
6 large eggs
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups pecan pieces, toasted
To prepare the pie crust: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles peas. Break an egg into a liquid measuring cup. Add the vinegar to the egg, then add cold water to make 1 cup. Beat slightly with a fork. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring lightly with a fork until just moistened. Lightly form into five equal-size balls. On a floured surface, lightly shape the balls into patties. The dough may be chilled slightly and used right away or frozen in airtight bags for later use. It is easier to work with after freezing.
COOK’S NOTE: Pie crust varies from day to day. If it seems too dry, use more water.
Prepare the sweet potato layer: heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Mash the sweet potatoes with the cream and nutmeg. The texture should resemble that of mashed potatoes. Spread in the bottom of the pie shells, filling the shells half-full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes start to brown.
In the meantime, prepare the pecan-oat mixture: In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Mix in the salt and spices. Add the syrups and mix well. Gently blend in eggs, one at a time. Do not whip. Stir in the oats.
When the sweet potato layer is baked, cover the potato layer with the pecan pieces, reserving a sprinkle for the top.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Pour the pecan-oat mixture evenly on top of the pecans in the pie shells, sprinkle with the reserved pecans, and finish baking for 30 to 35 minutes, covering the pie shell edges with aluminum foil or a piecrust shield if they start to get too dark. The pies can be a little jiggly in the center, but should be golden brown.
– Pie-O-Neer Café, Pie Town