Friday, August 19, 2011

The First Native American Restaurant


This catered event in November 1621 could have included: corn soup, succotash, white fish, venison, turkey, amimi (pigeon), duck, berries (including whole cranberries), maple sugar candies, corn starch candy, watercress, ramps, beans, squash, corn bread, corn and pumpkin.

November was a religious obligation in England for many years before coming to the New World. On the other hand, Algonkian tribes held six thanksgiving festivals during the year. The beginning of the Algonkian year was marked by the Maple Dance, which gave thanks for the maple tree and its syrup. This ceremony occurred when the weather was warm enough for the sap to run in the maple trees, sometimes as early as February. Second was the planting feast, where the seeds were blessed. The strawberry festival was next, celebrating the first fruits of the season. Summer brought the green corn festival to give thanks for the ripening corn. In late fall, the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had grown. Mid-winter was the last ceremony of the old year.

When the Indians sat down to the "first Thanksgiving" with the Pilgrims, it was really the fifth thanksgiving of the year for them! Captain Miles Standish, the leader of the Pilgrims, invited Squanto, Samoset, Massasoit (the leader of the Wampanoags), and their immediate families to join them for a celebration, but they had no idea how big Indian families could be. As the Thanksgiving feast began, the Pilgrims were overwhelmed at the large turnout of ninety relatives that Squanto and Samoset brought with them. The Pilgrims were not prepared to feed a gathering of people that large for three days. Seeing this, Massasoit gave orders to his men within the first hour of his arrival to go home and get more food. Thus it happened that the Indians supplied the majority of the food: Five deer, many wild turkeys, fish, beans, squash, corn soup, corn bread, and berries.

Three hundred and eighty five years later this first event is celebrated throughout our nation in homes and restaurants. Refined somewhat but still with the turkey as its center, cranberry and pumpkin happily alongside.

From this first food encounter has developed an abundance of American Indian ingredients to enhance our culinary world. New cuisines including Southwestern, Mexican and those of South America have spread throughout the world. The largest culinary growth trend is predicted to be from the Native lands of Central and South America.

Native American Cuisine is slowly peeking its head above the dining room table. It has been presented at the Beard House and a cruise line will feature it. The Crystal Cruises Wine & Food Festival Cruise Jan. 12, 2007 to South America. The Miami to Valparaiso (Crystal Serenity) will feature Chef Loretta Barrett Oden, Native American chef and food historian and host of PBS series Seasoned With Spirit. Titled a "Native Cook's Journey" (first series focusing on Native American food).

There are a number of restaurants that serve or feature Native American food. As chefs learn more of the exciting possibilities of this and its fusion potential, menus may go Native. We do have to get past the historical pemmican syndrome.

Native Recipes

Native American Restaurants

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Most Recognized Native American Food


The Most Recognized Native American Cuisine, Southwestern

Southwestern cuisine is food styled after the rustic cooking of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. It comprises a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by Native Americans, cowboys and Mexicans throughout the pre and post-Columbian era.

Southwestern cuisine is heavily influenced by Mexican cuisine but involves more large cuts of meat. This style of cuisine is knows for its use of spices, particularly Chili pepper and Tabasco sauce. Chili con carne and fajitas are particularly well known Southwestern foods. Recently, several chains of casual dining restaurants specializing in Southwestern cuisine have become popular in the United States.

New Mexico is known for its dedication to the chile (the official "state question" is "Red or green?", which refers to the preferred color of chilis), most notably the "hatch" chile.

The Coyote Café in Santa Fe NM claims to be the birthplace of the fancier (more expensive) form of this cuisine.

New Mexican food is a type of regional cuisine originating in the US state of New Mexico; it is the main subset of Southwestern Cuisine . Although many New Mexican dishes are similar to Mexican and Tex-Mex offerings such as enchiladas and burritos, New Mexican food has a distinct style. The most important difference is the type of chile pepper used. New Mexico chiles comes in two varieties, referred to as either "green chiles" or "red chiles" depending on the stage of ripeness in which they were picked.

Green chile is perhaps the defining ingredient of New Mexican food compared to neighboring styles, though heavier use of cilantro and relaxed use of cumin are also important. In the past few years, green chile has grown increasingly more common outside of New Mexico, and it is a popular ingredient in everything from enchiladas and burritos to cheeseburgers and bagels within the state's borders and beyond.


New Mexican cuisine began as a blend of the styles of ancestral Mexicans of the region (who made use of local plant variants, animal availability, etc., and ergo are likely to have already had a cooking style notably divergent from that of central Mexico) and nearby Native Americans such as the Navajo, Zuñi, Pueblo and Ute. This native style has been strongly influenced by incoming American tastes since the end of the Mexican-American War. Over time, the style diverged increasingly from similar styles in California and Texas (all of which, like New Mexico, were formerly part of Mexico). This divergence has accelerated in the last few decades, perhaps as a protective response to the "invading" popularity of heavily Americanized "Mexican" food products and fast food.
Today, New Mexican cuisine differs from Mexican, Tex-Mex and Mexican-Californian in numerous ways besides chile, including spice balance, ingredients, general definitions of what certain dishes are and how to prepare them, use of sauces and condiments, etc. For example, New Mexican food uses, on average, more beef than Mexican cooking, usually uses a different kind of oregano, and often handles tortillas differently; it does not make use of Tex-Mex style chili con carne and uses less cumin and fewer jalapenos than the Texas style; and it does not make nearly as much use of rice and mixed vegetables as the California style, nor as much avocado (which is not native to the semi-arid New Mexico region).

List of New Mexican Cuisine Terms

·Albondigas: meatballs.
·Atole: a thick, hot gruel made from corn.
·Biscochitos: an anise-flavored cookie.
·Burrito: a small-to-medium white flour tortilla, filled with meat, beans, cheese, salsa, or a combination of these, and rolled. Often served smothered with chile sauce and melted cheese; the California-style variant is usually much larger (often twice as large or more), includes rice, and may use colored and flavored tortillas.
·Capirotada: a raisin and walnut pudding.
·Carne adovada: cubes of pork that have been marinated and cooked in red chile, garlic and oregano.
·Chalupa: a corn tortilla, fried into a bowl shape and filled with shredded chicken or other meat, and/or beans, and usually topped with guacamole and salsa. (Contrast with the larger and vegetable-laden California-style equivalent known as taco salads; compare with tostadas.)
·Chicharrones: pork skin ("pork rinds"), fried crisp into a potato chip-like snack; often spiced heavily.
·Chile or chile sauce: A sauce made from red or green chiles by a variety of recipes, and served hot over many (perhaps any) New Mexican dish. Chile does not use vinegar, unlike most salsas, picantes and other hot sauces. Green chile is made with chopped roasted chiles, while red chile is made with chiles dried and ground to a powder. Thickeners like flour, and various spices are often added, especially ground cumin, coriander and oregano. Chile is one of the most definitive differences between New Mexican and other Mexican and Mexican-American cuisines. Mexican and Californian tend to use various specialized sauces for different dishes, while Tex-Mex leans toward the use of salsa picante and chili con carne (and even Cajun-style Louisiana hot sauce). New Mexican cuisine uses chile sauce as taco sauce, enchilada sauce, burrito sauce, etc. (though any given meal may use both red and green varieties for different dishes). A thicker version of green chile, with larger pieces of the plant, plus onions and other additions, is called green chile stew and is popular in Albuquerque-style New Mexican food; it is used the same way as green chile sauce, as a topping for virtually anything, including American dishes.
·Chiles: Peppers of the capsicum species. New Mexico chile is a local cultivar of the species or subspecies otherwise represented as jalapeños, Anaheim peppers and many other varieties. The large, flavorful New Mexican variety gives the region's cuisine much of its distinctive style. Green chiles are those that are picked unripe; they are fire-roasted, then peeled before further use. Unlike the ultra-mild canned supermarket green chiles, New Mexico green chiles can range from mild to (occasionally) hotter than jalapenos, and come in grades of spiciness at markets that cater to chile aficionados. Red chiles are the ripe form of the same plant (though particular strains are bred for intended use as red or green chile). Generally more piquant than green chiles, they too can be roasted, but are usually dried; they can be added whole, to spice an entire stew, or more often are ground into powder or sometimes flakes. Freshly dried red chiles are sold in string-bound bundles called ristras, which are a common decorative sight on porches and in homes and businesses throughout the Southwest. Chiles may be referred to as chile peppers, especially if the sentence requires them to be distinguished from the chile sauce made out of them. The bulk of, and allegedly the best of, New Mexico chiles are grown in and around Hatch, in southern New Mexico.
·Chile con queso: chile and melted cheese mixed together into a dip. (Not to be confused with chili con queso, which is Tex-Mex-style chili con carne stew topped with cheese); 'chile' and 'chili' are pronounced slightly differently by knowledgeable English speakers in New Mexico, especially if the difference would be semantically important; the pronunciation of 'chile' leans at least slightly toward the Spanish source, e.g. "chillay", at least when necessary.)
·Chiles rellenos: roasted, peeled green chiles stuffed (usually with cheese), dipped in batter and fried, often to a crispy-battered texture (like fish & chips or fried chicken); the California version substitutes milder, thinner Anaheim peppers, and they are usually under-fried to have a spongy batter texture. In New Mexican English, the first "s" is usually silent (to the consternation of local Spanish speakers).
·Chimichanga: a small deep-fried meat and (usually) bean burrito, also containing (or smothered with) chile sauce and cheese; popularized by the Allsup's convenience store chain with a series of humorous commercials in the 1980s with candid footage of people attempting and failing to pronounce the name correctly. Chimichangas, like flautas and taquitos, are a fast-food adaptation of traditional dishes in a form that can be stored frozen and then quickly fried as needed; they are also rigid and easily hand-held, and thus easy to eat by people while walking or driving.
·Chorizo: a spicy pork sausage, seasoned with garlic and red chile, usually used in ground or finely chopped form as a breakfast side dish or quite often as an alternative to ground beef or shredded chicken in other dishes; New Mexican chorizo is said to be noticeably different in its spice blend from that of Mexico and California.
·Cilantro: a pungent green herb (also called Mexican or Chinese parsley, the seeds of which are known as coriander) used fresh in salsas, and as a topping for virtually any dish; one of the defining tastes of New Mexican cuisine, especially Santa Fe style.
·Empanada: a turnover, filled usually with a sweetened meat mixture or fruit.
·Enchiladas: corn tortillas filled with meat, beans or cheese, and either rolled, or stacked, and covered with chile sauce and cheese. In California-style Mexican-American food, enchiladas are invariably each a discrete item; New Mexico-style enchiladas are often prepared fused together on a pan or in a casserole dish and tend to be served in a manner reminiscent of lasagna, though the California style is becoming more common, especially in upscale restaurants.
·Fajita: strips of grilled steak or chicken that come with flour tortillas, sautéed bell peppers and onions, and other side dishes, on a hot metal plate, to make do-it-yourself burritos.
·Flan: caramel custard dessert.
·Flauta: a small, tightly rolled, fried enchilada; contrast chimichangas and taquitos.
·Frijoles: beans, usually kidney or (in more recent times) black beans
·Fry Bread: Native America creation from reservation commodity food and spread throughout Native America Nations. A simple flour creation varying in ingredients such as dry milk, baking soda and cooked in oil until puffy. Usually round as a tortilla but not always. Sometimes with a hole. Served plain with stews and Native meat dishes, with honey, berry sauce (wojape) or sugar as a desert.
·Guacamole: mashed, spiced avocado, usually with chopped onion, tomatoes, garlic, lime and chile.
·Horno: an outdoor, beehive-shaped oven.
·Huevos rancheros: flour tortillas, topped with eggs, usually pan-fried, smothered with chile sauce or salsa, and cheese. Traditional Mexican huevos rancheros always use corn tortillas, and this variant is in fact sometimes to be found in New Mexican breakfasts. The term is virtually always plural. The name means "ranch-style eggs".
·Jalapeño: a small, fat chile pepper, ranging from mild to painfully hot, frequently used chopped (fresh) in salsa, sliced (pickled) on nachos, or split (fresh) and stuffed with cheese (outside of New Mexico, cream cheese is more common). Jalapenos are common to all Mexican and Mexican-American cuisines. Their use in New Mexican food tends to be lesser, in favor of green chile; they are used mainly to provide additional piquancy when desired.
·Natilla: soft custard dessert.
·Oregano: A flavorful herb used in many cuisines, and most closely associated with Italian food. It's heavy use in American cuisine in general has supplanted the use of the unrelated but somewhat similar Mexican oregano spice in New Mexican (as well as Californian and Tex-Mex) cuisine, though some cooks prefer to use Mexican oregano, which is remains easily obtainable in New Mexico.
·Pico de gallo: cold salsa with thick-chopped fresh chiles, tomatoes, onions and cilantro (does not have a tomato paste base like commercial packaged salsas, and never any vinegar); the name, curiously, means "chicken beak".
·Posole: a thick stew made with hominy corn simmered for hours with pork and green chile plus other vegetables such as onions. Red chile and chicken recipes also exist, but are not traditional. The heavy use of New Mexico-style green chiles makes this posole quite different from the ancestral Mexican variant.
·Quesadilla: a turnover made of a flour tortilla, filled with cheese (and often other ingredients), then toasted, pan-fried or baked. It is also commonly made round, using two tortillas instead of folding one, and is usually served topped with salsa or pico de gallo and sometimes sour cream.
·Refritos or refried beans: pre-cooked beans that have been mashed and fried, traditionally in lard but more commonly in vegetable oil today; often an ingredient, but if served as a side dish typically topped with cheese. Traditionally always made with pinto beans, but the California influence is making black bean (frijole negro) refritos more common.
·Salsa: generally an uncooked mixture of chiles/peppers, tomatoes, onions, and frequently blended or mixed with tomato paste to produce a more sauce-like texture than pico de gallo; usually contains vinegar in noticeable quantities (contrast chile and pico de gallo). The green chile variant usually uses cooked tomatillos instead of tomatoes or omits both, and does not use avocado (which is very common in California green salsa). Differs from Mexican, Texan and Californian styles principally in the use of green chile in place of or in addition to jalapeno peppers (and all styles' mild versions are created simply by substituting a lot of green bell pepper for the hotter varieties). The New Mexico and California styles share a typically large amount of cilantro added to the mix. The word simply means "sauce" in Spanish.
·Salsa picante or picante sauce: A thin, vinegary, piquant (thus it's name) sauce of pureéd red peppers and tomatoes with spices, reminiscent of a combination of New Mexico-style chile sauce and Louisiana style tabasco pepper sauce. (Note: American commercial food producers have appropriated the term to refer simply to spicy packaged salsa). Picante's place in Mexican, Tex-Mex and Californian food, where it is extremely common, especially as a final condiment to add more "heat", has largely been supplanted by chile, especially red chile, in New Mexican cuisine.
·Sopaipilla: a puffed, fried bread, that is eaten split and filled with honey-butter (as a dessert), or sometimes stuffed with meat, beans, cheese and chile sauce.
·Taco: a corn tortilla fried into a trough shape and filled with meats, cheese, or beans, and fresh chopped lettuce, onions, tomatoes and cheese; increasingly may also refer to the burrito-like uncooked, rolled flour tortilla variant, by way of the influence of Taco Bell and its popularization of the California-style "soft taco". A corn tortilla is always fried in New Mexico cuisine if to be used in a taco, in stark contrast to Mexico-style tacos which are usually flat and served on two uncooked corn tortillas.
·Tamale: meat, usually shredded pork, rolled in cornmeal masa, wrapped traditionally in corn husks (paper is more common today), and steamed, and served most often with red chile sauce. New Mexican tamales do not, as a style, differ appreciably from those made elsewhere other than the sauce, which varies from region to region, but they are a major component of New Mexico cuisine.
·Taquito or taquita: a tightly rolled, deep-fried variant of the taco; contrast chimichangas and flautas.
·Tortilla: a flatbread made predominantly either of unbleached white wheat flour or of cornmeal. New Mexico-style flour tortillas are about the same as those of Mexico, while California has popularized colorful flavored and whole wheat versions. Mexican corn tortillas are usually made of white corn, but New Mexico favors yellow corn, and the Santa Fe local style leans toward the more exotic (though allegedly less flavorful) blue corn. Tortillas are the foundation or wrapping for a great number of dishes, and can also serve as snacks in the form of corn chips (sliced and fried corn tortillas, served with chile, salsa or pico de gallo).
·Tostada: an open-face fried corn tortilla covered with (typically) refried beans, salsa, cheese, and chopped lettuce and tomato. Compare with chalupas.

The Bottom Line

Southwestern cuisine combines Native American, Mexican, Tex Mex and American flavors, creating a pleasing, often spicy fare many only know through Taco Bell or canned Chili Con Carne.

Whether it's chiles in Taos or chilis in El Paso, there's no getting around these often devilish little fruits which give much of the fire to Southwestern specialties like tacos, enchiladas, tortilla and albondigas soups and more.

Corn is an important ingredient, giving the nod to Navajo hominy, sweet and savory tamales, as well as casserole toppers and upscale salads using jicama, paper-thin slices of red onion and miniature cobs of corn.

Other starches include the ubiquitous bean, often pinto or pink; rice used in cooling drinks and as a base for wonderful casseroles and side dishes, and flour in its many manifestations. You'll find it as a base for mole roux, in huge homemade, and often flavored, tortillas along with heavenly sopapillas and sugary sweet bunellos.

Neighborhood Pow Wows tempt the colorful crowds with sizzling hot and puffed fry bread and mutton stew. All around you, on street corners and in spacious malls, the foods of the Southwesten United States sing their siren song with sweet, crunchy and spicy topnotes.

Chicken pops up in quesadillas loaded with gooey white cheese, or barbequed with cilantro, chiles and lime. Carnitas are little moist chunks of roast pork which enrich everything from chile verde to great, sloppy street corner burritos. Beef is tirelessly trotted out in tomato-free chili, familiar hard, and soft, tacos and sizzling cowboy steaks.

Seafood may seem odd in this nearly landlocked region, but delectable Gulf shrimp and a variety of freshwater fish find their way into new-style paella, tasty stews and a variety of local boy skewers enriched with chipoltes and perfumed with sweet summer sage.

Diners in New Mexico will be asked if they want red or green, and each restaurant's own cook holds the key to which of these colorful chiles will clear your sinuses and which will make you sweat and whimper. Here, too, enchiladas are liable to be stacked instead of rolled, and the corn in your tortilla is just as likely to be blue.

In Arizona, people brave long lines in a marginal South Central neighborhood to get Carolina's monster homemade flour tortillas. Enfolding such treats as the substantial breakfast burros to the amazingly greaseless chorizo, there are lines at every time of day for this inexpensive and filling Mexican fare, once highlighted in Sunset Magazine as a regional best.

In Texas you might be asked to a party for cabeza del vaca, or sample a late night a platter of nopalitos y huevos con papas fritas, (cactus, eggs and fried potatoes). Rolling out of a Blackeyed Pea franchise you'll fantasize about that perfect homemade peach cobbler while your date seeks to brush off dabs of country gravy drippings from his bolo tie.

Meals can be sparkled with pinon nuts, Mexican cocoa-made with hard cylinders of compressed chocolate, cinnamon and more, or huge glasses of iced tea, plus a dizzying deluge of imported and boutique beers sure to settle to dust.

Condiments of hot sauce and salsa cruda sit cheek to jowl with the more familiar catsup and Lea & Perrins on kitchen tables across the region. Pizza parlors provide sprinkle jars of crushed red pepper next to the Parmesan and little Mom and Pop Mexican joints will serve up those little squeeze bottles of honey for the little pillows of puffed dough served at most every meal.

Nouvelle SW just takes these fresh and indigenous products and swirls them amongst French, Thai and German cuisine. Hence, the oxymoron of fat-free gorditas filled with baby greens and goat cheese or unexpected combinations of earthy Oaxocan olive spread napping silken Portabello mushrooms amidst a masa-encrusted fence of yellowfin tuna.

Some Chefs Leading the Way

Tim Love

Celebrity Chef Tim Love from Fort Worth, Texas has recently garnered critical acclaim for his take on Southwestern Cuisine. His "Urban Western Cuisine" features selections of wild game, fish, and animals indigenous to the western & southwestern parts of the United States as well as meats found in such worldwide places as Australia and New Zealand. Combining such cuts as buffalo, wild boar, and kangaroo with flavors and vegetables native to the lands of Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Montana. His Lonesome Dove Western Bistro restaurants in Fort Worth & New York City have helped Southwestern Cuisine gain a prominent place among culinary enthusiasts worldwide.

Bobby Flay

I'm going to put a new and colorful twist on southwestern cuisine," said Bobby Flay, host of Food Network's FoodNation and Boy Meets Grill, just before the 1991 opening of the now-celebrated Mesa Grill. Since then the flame-haired man from Manhattan has earned critical acclaim, including Gael Greene's choice of Mesa Grill as best restaurant in 1992. Mesa Grill's two-star review in The New York Times reported that "the sassy fare at Mesa Grill surpasses anything of its kind elsewhere in New York."

The recognition that Bobby has gained at Mesa Grill for his mouthwatering dishes has built his reputation as a major force not only in New York's culinary scene but also nationwide. In May 1993, Bobby was voted the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef of the Year, an award that honors the country's most accomplished chef under the age of 30. The French Culinary Institute, his alma mater, honored him in 1993 with its first-ever Outstanding Graduate Award, which recognizes the school's most accomplished alumni. And his first book, Bobby Flay's Bold American Food (Warner Books, 1994), won the 1995 International Association of Culinary Professionals award for design. Not one to rest on his laurels, Bobby has authored five more cookbooks: From My Kitchen to Your Table (Clarkson Potter, 1998), Boy Meets Grill (Hyperion, 1999), Bobby Flay Cooks American (Hyperion, 2001), Boy Get Gets Grill (Scribner, 2004) and Bobby Flay's Grilling for Life (Scribner, 2005).

Bobby fell into cooking at the age of 17 when he took a job at New York's Joe Allen restaurant. Eventually, he so impressed the management that Joe Allen paid his tuition to the prestigious French Culinary Institute. But French cuisine was not to be Bobby's destiny. After restaurateur Jonathan Waxman introduced him to southwestern ingredients, Bobby--instantly drawn to indigenous American foods such as black and white beans, chiles and avocados--was determined to explore the possibilities of southwestern cuisine as an important and distinct culinary style for America.

From 1988 to 1990, Bobby experimented with his new culinary passion at New York's Miracle Grill, where his colorful southwestern creations earned him something of a cult following. When Bobby's own Mesa Grill opened its doors in 1991, his reputation as a major New York chef was sealed. He continued to soar with Bolo, his second New York restaurant, which Bobby (Bo) and partner Laurence Kretchmer (Lo) opened in November 1993. Dedicated to exploring Spanish cuisine, Bobby's innovative menu at Bolo dazzles adventurous palates daily.

In 2004, Bobby opened the Mesa Grill Las Vegas in Caesar's Palace. His newest American Brasserie, Bar Americain, opened in New York in the spring of 2005.


Looking toward the future, chefs anticipate that the flavors and ingredients of Latin and Central America will have the greatest influence on the culinary arts in the upcoming years. On trips to Mexico City, Yucatan and the Mayan Riviera, one can sample a phenomenal array of the spices, dishes and produce indicative of this ancient Native cuisine. You can see firsthand the stunning diversity of flavor in the southwestern hemisphere, and look forward to seeing it integrated into contemporary American culinary arts.

Areas to Have the Greatest Influence on Culinary Arts

Central Asia.........................06%
Eastern Europe.....................05%
Latin/Central America...........25%
Middle East...........................09%
North America......................10%
Southeast Asia.....................14%

Note: This article is edited from Internet sources

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Foods of New Mexico



Written by Paul Harden

Friday, 05 August 2011 16:29

There’s Mexican food, Tex-Mex food, and there’s New Mexican food. Where did our flour tortillas, frijoles, calabacitas — and, of course, chile — come from? It’s an interesting and tasteful history.

The Oñate Expedition

Much has been written about the famous Juan de Oñate expedition that brought the first colonists to New Mexico in 1598. Oñate brought 200 soldiers and their families, along with some Franciscan friars, who accounted for more than 500 people who first settled New Mexico.
In his book on the Camino Real, Marc Simmons describes the caravan: “The column, when completely spread out, stretched more than two miles ... From a distance, the train must have resembled a giant caterpillar crawling slowly under its canopy of dust.” Simmons further describes the train as “eighty wagons and ox carts ... seven thousand head of livestock; beef cattle, spare oxen, horses, pack mules, donkeys, sheep, and goats. And finally, the people — Oñate’s colonists.”
Most of these animals were foreign to the Pueblo Indians encountered along the Rio Grande. An important aspect of bringing all these people to New Mexico is how to feed them in a strange new land. The livestock served as work animals, were slaughtered for their meat, and provided milk for making cheese.
Of particular interest, which receives little attention, were the implements and supplies these first colonists brought with them. Inventory lists show more than 40 plow shares and many iron-tipped hoes. Oñate wagons also carried seeds and tree cuttings for planting gardens and orchards. These colonists were clearly prepared to farm and live in the region for a long time.
The First Farms
In August 1598, Oñate and his colonists entered the Tewa pueblos of Yungue and Ohkay at the confluence of the Chama and Rio Grande rivers. The colonists settled on the east side of the Rio Grande and named the area San Gabriel — today’s village of Alcalde north of Española. Oñate renamed the pueblos to San Juan, although today’s tribe has recently reverted to their original name, Ohkay Owingeh.
The Tewa people were accomplished farmers. The fertile river valley, filled with cultivated fields of corn, beans and squash, and watered by an extensive irrigation system, must have been an envy to the arriving colonists. These fields had fed the Ohkay people for centuries.
While many assume Oñate selected this pueblo as his capitol for some strategic reason, it was the friendly Ohkay people and hundreds of acres of fertile farm land that caught his eye. He, and most of his colonists, thought they had found the perfect location for establishing lucrative farms and building New Spain.
Oñate carefully planned the expedition to colonize New Mexico. The only real logistic error was their late August arrival — far too late in the season to plant their fields. Instead, they spent the autumn and winter readying their fields, building acequias and, of course, haciendas in which to live.
When the spring of 1599 arrived, both the pueblo people and the colonists began planting their fields. To the pueblo Indians, this meant their time-tested crops of corn, beans and squash. The Spaniards planted wheat, the main staple of Europe, and other Old World crops such as lettuce, carrots and melons.
During the dry months of June and July, the Indian crops continued to flourish while awaiting the monsoon rains and coping with low river flows. Growth of the wheat fields, on the other hand, seemed to stall with the lack of water. The Tewa Indians must have laughed as the wimpy stands of wheat struggled to grow in the dry, blazing sun of the New Mexico summer. The Spaniards may have been on the verge of tears and wondering how they were going to feed their families.
Finally, the monsoon rains arrived, the rivers filled with water and the acequias flowed again. While not all the wheat survived, some of the acreage was rescued from the throes of death. Small as it was, the Spaniards had their first harvest in the New World. They learned to adjust their planting cycles over the following years to increase their yields. And, no doubt, they developed a quick appreciation for the agricultural skills of their neighbors — the Pueblo Indians.
Researcher William Dunmire, author of the book “Gardens of New Spain,” estimates the first year’s yield was a paltry dozen bushels of wheat and a little barley, with possibly 200 bushels of wheat the following year. With these first disappointing harvests, there is little doubt the colonists leaned hard on the pueblo residents for their survival. The people of the Ohkay pueblo responded well.
Likely with the help of the pueblo, the colonists honed their farming skills and harvested about 5,000 bushels of wheat in 1601. A bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds, and a yield of five or six bushels per acre was typical.
This seems to suggest the Spaniards were off to a good start. However, as Dunmire notes, this yield of wheat “must have been barely enough for the five hundred soldiers, settlers, and their families … Colonists had to supplement meals with Indian-grown corn.”
The Franciscans
While the colonists around the San Juan pueblo were developing their farms, Oñate sent the Franciscans to the larger outlying pueblos to establish missions. Where the missions were erected, the Franciscans also directed the building of large gardens. In addition to teaching the pueblo people European farming techniques and new varieties of foods, they also taught them how to graft fruit trees and vines. This resulted in the first huertas (orchards) in New Mexico of peaches, apricots and plums. This included the missions built at Socorro and the nearby pueblos of Sevilleta (La Joya) and Senecú (San Marcial).
The first apple trees seem to be the handiwork of Franciscans at the Abo and Quarai pueblo missions. Planted in the 1630s, the friars also taught the pueblo Indians and the nearby colonists how to graft the seedlings for a hearty crop. Within years, apple trees and orchards were flourishing along the mountains north of today’s Mountainair. When the Spaniards returned to the area following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, they found apple trees and the huertas, still bearing fruit, all along the mountains. So dominant were these apple trees, the returning settlers named the mountain range the “Manzanos” — the Spanish word for apples.
Today, New Mexico has numerous apple orchards from the Manzano Mountain Orchard, with more than 2,000 fruit-bearing trees near Torreon, to the Dixon Apple orchard near Cochiti Pueblo. Some of the oldest apricot trees in New Mexico are located in Abiquiu and Truchas – and they are still bearing fruit.
Linking the Cultures
While the colonists had initial difficulties growing wheat in New Mexico, they did have good success with some of the other seeds and cuttings they brought from Spain and Mexico. This included lettuce, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and melons. Onions and garlic were also grown for seasoning. All of these garden plants were foreign to the pueblo Indians.
The Pueblo Indians had generations of farming experience under their belts and lived off of their cultivated corn, beans and squash for centuries. Still, during years of drought, lack of hunting game, or other calamities, the pueblos occasionally found themselves in want of food to survive the winter. A drought year with a poor crop caused hundreds to go hungry and even die from lack of food. The same was the case with the Spaniards, who also experienced good years and bad.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the two cultures quickly learned to trade food, farming techniques and prepared foods for their mutual survival. While the Indians would often spend days searching for wild greens to add iron to their diet, lettuce, cabbage and other greens were readily available from the colonists’ gardens. Likewise, the colonists learned to appreciate the native beans and squash in their diets, and the pueblo corn flour when wheat was scarce. A few heads of lettuce for a sack of corn or squash was probably a fair trade.
However, there were two items that linked the two cultures together: chile and watermelons.
Chili or Chile?
Throughout the inhabited Earth, Chile, with an “E” on the end, is a country in South America; chili, with an “I” on the end, is the fiery pod. After all, the Aztecs, who made the green pods into a major food group, named it chili. The Mexicans call it chili. Those in Chile call it chili. There are habanero chilies, cayenne chilies and, of course, jalapeño chilies. All with that “I” on the end.
However, New Mexico marches to its own drum beat. Here, and almost exclusively here, hot peppers are spelled “chile,” and chili, with the “I” on the end, is that hearty bowl of stew with meat, potatoes or beans liberally diced with green or red chile. It is Hatch Green Chile or Socorro Chile. And restaurants like El Sombrero and El Camino make a mean bowl of chili. Got it?
Fortunately, they are pronounced the same. Chili, or chile, is pronounced like “chilly,” the opposite of hot — which makes no sense at all. In English, “hot” can mean scalding hot water, the blazing sun or spicy hot. In Spanish, hot scalding water is caliente; the hot sting of good chile is spicy hot or picante — not caliente hot, unless of course it is hot. Then there’s cachonda hot — a subject for a future article.
And if that isn’t confusing enough, consider this: chile is technically a fruit. Yet, at the grocery store, it is found among all the other green vegetables.
Chile — Red or Green?
Other than spelling conventions, there’s several things that sets New Mexico apart from the rest of the country, and the world’s best green and red chile is certainly one. For most New Mexicans, an enchilada without picante chile is unthinkable. While chile is native to the Americas, it was not native to New Mexico.
Chile is a native from Mexico and into South America. Archaeologists have found evidence of chile cultivation in Central America from at least 3000 B.C., making chiles one of the oldest crops cultivated by man. Around 1500 B.C., the Mayans appear to be the first to mix chile powder with water to make a sauce for spreading on tortillas. (Yes, tortillas are that old, too).
However, it was the Aztecs that developed chili into a dominant foodstuff. It became an important part of their culture. In fact, the name “chili” is the original Aztecan word for the fiery fruit, not the Spanish word. Like New Mexicans today, the Aztecans put green chiles, or dried red chile powder, on almost everything. A favorite Aztecan refreshment was called xocolatl, a spicy drink of chocolate spiced with hot red chile. New Mexicans haven’t latched on to that one — yet.
It is often joked that chile is addictive and once you acquire the taste, you can’t live without it. Perhaps so, since the Spaniards and Franciscans wasted no time bringing the Aztecan varieties of chile to New Mexico. It was grown by the Spanish farmers, the pueblo Indians, and even in the Franciscan mission gardens.
One can imagine life in the early mission monasteries. As the sun set, the Franciscan friars would enter a dark adobe room in the convento, to sit down at a dimly lit table for evening prayers and supper. The cocinero (cook) would enter and simply ask the padres, “Red or green?” The rest is history, as well as the official state question.
Regardless of how the “red or green” question came about, it clearly makes New Mexico unique from the rest of the country. Chile has been a part of the local diet since its introduction by the Franciscans in the early 1600s.
The Watermelon
If bananas are the world’s most perfect fruit, then watermelons have to be a close second. They grow quickly and almost anywhere, even in the dry climate of New Mexico. Their succulent, normally red, flesh is sweet and refreshing. If it wasn’t for having to spit out those darn seeds, it would be the perfect fruit.
Watermelons were not native to the Americas. They originated in Africa, planted by the ancient Egyptians, and spread from Persia to China. Muslim Moors planted watermelons north of the Sahara desert along the Mediterranean in Algeria and Morocco around 600 A.D. The succulent melons ended up in Spain, when the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula. Centuries later, the Spaniards, in turn, spread them throughout the New World.
Oñate and his colonists brought the black seeds to New Mexico when they blazed the Camino Real. They grew well and became an instant hit with their neighbors at the San Juan Pueblo.
The Indians had nothing in their diet that was sweet, except for occasional wild berries and the fruits of certain cacti. One can imagine the taste sensation enjoyed when the Pueblo Indians first bit into a ripe sweet watermelon. Instead of the tease of a few berries, one could eat the sweet fruit of the watermelon to their heart’s content.
When the Franciscans began visiting the outlying pueblos, they found watermelons in some of their gardens. This baffled historians for years, since they knew watermelons were not native to New Mexico. They were found at the pueblos of Zuni, Kuaua (Bernalillo) and Nafiat (south of Bernalillo) — all places where Francisco Coronado and his soldiers camped in 1540-1542. It is now believed Coronado was the first to bring and plant watermelons in the region. Although watermelons were planted primarily to feed his 500 soldiers, they became a treasured fruit in the pueblos visited by Coronado.
When Spanish colonists settled with the people of the Nafiat Pueblo, in 1617, they renamed it Sandia Pueblo — sandia means watermelon in Spanish. Some claim the name was changed for the extensive watermelons grown by the pueblo in the bosque along the Rio Grande. Others claim it was because the mountain behind the pueblo – today’s Sandia Mountain — looked like a watermelon at sunset.
The watermelon quickly spread throughout the pueblos and villages of New Mexico. It remains a favorite in New Mexico’s gardens and farms today.
Spanish Rice
Rice is a common staple found among today’s New Mexican food, although it is a recent addition. Rice thrives in hot climates with high rainfall or plenty of fresh water. That pretty much excludes the Southwest desert. China comes to mind with its terraces of rice fields in the rainy mountain regions. Rice has been the main staple of the orient for thousands of years.
Rice arrived in Europe around 700 A.D., thanks again to those invading Moors. Centuries later, when Iberia became Portugal and Spain, and was rid of the Moors, the Spaniards continued cultivating the fields of rice — although it was mostly a food of the privileged class.
In the 1500s, the Spaniards brought rice to the New World and planted fields first in Hispaniola, and later in the lakes and marshes around Mexico City. However, for unknown reasons the supply wagons along El Camino Real brought very little rice to New Mexico.
In the meantime, rice plantations became plentiful in the southern U.S. by the mid-1700s. Their high yield and high profits were unfortunately due to the overwhelming use of slave labor. Many of these slaves were captured in the rice fields of Africa and Madagascar. Any slave with prior rice cultivation experience brought top dollar at the auction piers in Charleston, S.C. These slaves taught the American plantation owners how to build and dyke marshes for growing rice on flat land. To add insult to injury, many of these “rice slaves” perished from disease, owing to the stagnant waters of the rice fields, for which they had no immunity.
Following the Civil War, and the end to slavery, rice production fell dramatically in the Southern states.
Rice did not appear in New Mexico until the arrival of the railroad in the 1880s. Much of this rice came from the emerging rice fields in California. This rice was planted by Chinese farmers to support the thousands of Chinese who were building the western railroads in the late 1800s. It was not until the Great Depression, in the 1930s, that inexpensive rice became a popular staple for New Mexican foods.
Our rice never came from Spain. Most of it comes from California, Louisiana, or the Mississippi river bayous. So why is it called Spanish rice? All I can figure is it must be a marketing ploy. Now that you know the real story, eat your “Spanish” rice and keep the secret to yourself.
Grapes and Wines
When Oñate arrived in 1598, Spanish law prevented the export of grapevines to the New World, under penalty of death, to protect the Spanish vineyards and wine industry. Wine was shipped from Spain to the Franciscans at the missions for holy communion, central to each mass, although delivery was often unreliable. The friars needed a local source of wine.
In 1629, Fray Garcia de Zuniga, a Franciscan, and a monk named Antonio de Arteaga, smuggled vines out of Spain. They were secretly planted south of Socorro at the Senecú Pueblo mission. The wine from Senecú was secretly sent to other New Mexico missions. Thus, Socorro County has the distinction of having the first vineyards in New Mexico. These grapes were those known as “mission grapes” and are still grown in New Mexico today.
In 1633, Spanish law allowed wine to be made at the missions. The Franciscans and Piro Indians at Senecú became a favored winemaker for New Mexico until the 1680 Pueblo Revolt forced the abandonment of the missions.
By the 1800s, New Mexico became a major grape growing region, with most vineyards located along the Rio Grande, from Bernalillo to Socorro. After 1880, the arrival of the railroad allowed New Mexico wines to be sold in distant markets. More than a million gallons of wine was produced along the Rio Grande during this time. However, Prohibition brought a sudden end to most vineyards. Those that were left produced grapes for non-alcoholic purposes, but were wiped out in the flood of 1929.
Some of the oldest vineyards in New Mexico still exist around San Pedro and Lemitar. A resurgence in vineyards has seen a variety of grapes and wines that are still being produced in New Mexico.
Navajo Fry Bread
An especially unique local bread is one that is called “fry bread.” Being a Navajo invention, one would think it must be hundreds of years old. Actually, the date of the invention of fry bread is fairly well known: 1864.
Following the Civil War, the U.S. Army went on a campaign to round up all the Navajo. Christoper “Kit” Carson captured about 4,000 Navajo in Canyon de Chelly. He and his troops killed their livestock, burned their homes and orchards, and even poisoned their wells. Left desperate and with no means of support, the Navajo were forced to surrender. In what is known as the “Long Walk,” Carson marched the starving Navajo 450 miles to Bosque Redondo, near Fort Sumner, in 1864. Many perished on the trail. In all, about 9,000 Navajo were held captive at Redondo, and the U.S. Army was unable to properly feed them — truly a sad chapter in Army history.
The main commodities rationed to the Navajo were wheat flour and lard. The women learned to mix these ingredients with water and salt to make a dough, which slowly rose into a baked bread in the hot sun, unless one was fortunate enough to have access to an horno or campfire and skillet. The crude fry bread filled their empty stomachs and has since become a favorite among the Navajo and Apache, the Pueblo Indians and, for that matter, most of us. Today, fry bread is eaten either plain, or often covered with honey or honey butter. The bread is also used for making the equally famous “Navajo taco.” Both are favorites at county fairs, powwows, and on many of the tribal lands — fortunately now they are baked under far more favorable conditions than in Redondo. A yummy bread with a sad history.
New Mexican food is a unique blend of native foods nurtured by the early pueblo Indians, mixed with European vegetables and fruits brought by the Spanish colonists. It is this unique blend of ingredients that leaves New Mexican food with no equal. Every bite is not only sabroso (tasty), but full of history.
All images by Paul Harden unless otherwise noted.

Copyright © 1999-2011 El Defensor Chieftain. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Notes From The Fry Bread Side


Mexican Cuisine is Native
On the Chefs2Chefs site there was a discussion - Post398834 concerning Native American Cuisine. One contributor stated the Southwestern Cuisine, which is recognized as a legitimate cuisine is based, in part, on Mexican Cuisine. That got me thinking and doing some research. I came up with Mexican Cuisine is primarly Native American. The basis of Mexican food was in existence well before the arrival of the Spanish. Tortilla, tamale, taco, pazole, salsa, chocolate, cassava, tomato, corn and chilies all predate Spanish arrival. The Spanish added to the mix wheat, pork, chicken, dairy and beef as well as some spices. Basically the Spanish did not create the dish format but rather their ingredients were added to already existing cooking methods.

Most of the cooks in the era after Spain and Portugal conquest were Native. Spain did not arrive, as the English did, as colonizers as much as to exploiters and conquerors to return their wealth to their families and homes in Spain. Their "Hispanola" was a place to reap riches, not build homes and bring families. Native cooks did not adopt Spanish food to create Mexican Cuisine but rather altered their native dishes with the new ingredients available. The most Spanish added to these dishes and cuisine was their language.

There is also a sprinkling of Caribbean influence in Mexican cuisine, particularly in some regional dishes from the states of Veracruz and Yucatan. The French occupation of Mexico also yielded some influences as well: the bolillo (pronounced bo-lee-yo, with the "o" as in "bore"), a Mexican take on the French roll, certainly seems to reflect this.

Mexican food varies by region, because of local climate and geography and ethnic differences among the indigenous (Native) inhabitants and because these different populations were influenced by the Spaniards in varying degrees. The north of Mexico is known for its beef production and meat dishes; southeastern Mexico, on the other hand, is known for its spicy vegetable and chicken-based dishes. Veracruz-style is a common method of preparing seafood. There are also more exotic dishes, cooked in the Aztec or Maya style, with ingredients ranging from iguana to rattlesnake, deer, spider monkey, and even some kinds of insects. This is usually known as comida prehispanica (or prehispanic food), and although not very common, is relatively well known.

So we make a distinction between truly authentic Mexican food, and the Cal-Mex (Californian-Mexican) and "Tex Mex" (Texan-Mexican) cuisine. Mexican cuisine combines with the cuisine of the southwest United States (which itself has a number of Mexican influences) to form Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex cuisine. Another southwestern cuisine that is commonly mistaken for Mexican food is New Mexican or Southwestern Cuisine, which can be found in, of course, New Mexico, and is now spreading thoughout the USA. It has its roots deep in the Pueblo and other Native American cultures of the area. But all these cuisines including of course Mexican are basically Native American.

Some Notes on Native American Cuisine of Meso-America
The pre-conquest cuisine of the Native Americans of Meso-America made the major contribution to shaping modern-day Mexican cuisine. The cultures involved included the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and many more (see the List of pre-Columbian civilizations).

Some known dishes
Tlacoyos (gordita)
Champurrado, a chocolate drink
Pejelagarto, a fish seasoned with the amashito chile
Chili Stew

Crops and Ingredients

Maize, beans and squash were known as the three sisters for their symbiotic relationship when grown together by the North American and Meso-American natives. If the South Americans had similar methods of what is known as companion planting it is lost to us today.


Maize Throughout the Americas, probably domesticated in or near Mexico.
Beans Throughout the Americas.
Squash Throughout the Americas.
Sweet potato South American
Potato South American
Tomato South America
Coca South and Central America.
Quinoa South America, Central America, and Eastern North America.
Cassava Primarily South America.
Chile peppers
Bell peppers
Acorn Used to make flour.
Pineapple South America
Ramps wild onion
Maple syrup
Wild honey
Pecans, white walnuts, hickory nuts
Mesquite flour
Papaya South America


Hunted or Livestock
Bison Originally found throughout most of North America.
Wild Sheep
Horse Imported by Europeans
Sheep Another important European import.
Cattle Another important European import.
Hog Another important European import.
Guinea pig Domesticated in the Andes.
Llama Domesticated in the Andes.
Wooly mammoth, extinct
Passenger Pigion. extinct

Hispanic Cuisine
There is also no single Hispanic cuisine. Traditional Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Spanish, Argentine, and Peruvian cooking, for example, all vary greatly from each other, and take on new forms in the United States. While Mexican cuisine is the most familiar variety of "Hispanic food" in most of the United States, it is not representative of the cuisine of most other Hispanic peoples. The cuisine of Mexico can be heavily dependent on staples such as maize, beans, chile peppers and is greatly indebted to the cuisine and diet of the Aztec and Maya.
Cuba and Puerto Rico, on the other hand, may be dependent on starchy root vegetables, plantain and rice and is influenced by the flavors of Spain, Africa and China. The cuisine of Spain often mirrors the cuisines of its Mediterranean neighbors, and in addition to the abundance of olives, olive oil, tomatoes, seafood and meats, other foreign influences, such as the use of saffron, were introduced during the spice trade. Meanwhile, Argentina relies almost exclusively on red meats, consuming almost everything derived from beef, and is heavily influenced by Italian cuisine. In Peruvian cuisine guinea pigs are popular as a source of meat (derived from the diet of the Inca) and staples indigenous to the region, such as maize and the myriad of potato varieties, are the most utilized there. Rice also plays an important role in Peruvian cuisine.

This diversity in staples and cuisine is also evident in the differing regional cuisines within the national borders of the individual countries. Most groceries in heavily Hispanic areas carry a wide array of specialty Latin American products, in addition to the widely available brands of tortillas and Mexican style salsa.

Sources: Wikipedia Online, Questia Online, Historical Geography Of Southwestern Cuisine By Jeffrey M. Pilcher