Eating at ski resorts can often be expensive with rather generic food offerings. In New Mexico, you can get a large meal for under $15, or cheaper, with the state’s unique take on cuisine. Then, wash it down with a cold local craft brew and grab a Taos bar for your mid-ski snack.
What is Green Chile?
Somewhere between smoke and heat resides green chile – a pepper that is a ubiquitous part of New Mexico cuisine. Green chile is usually chopped into smaller bits, but it can also be turned into a sauce or a salsa-like consistency. Its red chile sibling has less heat, more smoke, and a subtler flavoring than green chile. Together, they become an answer to the official state question (and, yes, it really was passed by the State as the official New Mexico question): Red or Green? If you feel like trying both, answer Christmas to get red and green chile sauce slathered on your favorite food – we put it on nearly everything.
Depending on where you eat them, green chiles can be mild or extremely hot. At New Mexico ski resorts, the mild form of green chiles finds itself on burgers, pizzas, and into green chile stew. The green chile helps pop the flavor on a typical pizza, but be careful as green chiles are addictive. Since I moved here, I can’t eat pizza without thumbnail-sized slices of green chile floating on the mozzarella (most slices are less than $5). Besides adding zest to pizzas, green chile is the center of what I believe to be the best lunchtime ski meal: green chile stew.
Behold the Greatness of Green Chile Stew
One New Mexico truth is that everyone’s grandmother makes the best green chile stew. This truth is also testament that every family, restaurant, and community does green chile stew a little differently. What most green chile stew recipes have in common is New Mexico (and only New Mexico!) chopped green chile, pork or beef, potatoes, and other spices or vegetables. Add a warm tortilla to help soak up some of the stew, and you have a fast and filling lunchtime meal. While others are waiting in line, grab a cup to quickly fill your stomach and warm your body. On a brisk January day flushed with several inches of fresh powder, my friends and I broke for a quick lunch at the Pajarito cafeteria. I hit up the green chile stew to eat fast so I could get more cold smoke under my skis. Hitting my lips, the warm stew rushed into my ribs and warmed my insides with the green chile getting my blood flowing to my fingertips and toes. I then inhaled a soft pretzel, massive cookie, and some soda to wash down the green chile stew (about $12).
Cold Brews, Warm Skiing
New Mexico is one of the foremost states for craft brews. There are more than three dozen unique breweries across the state, which isn’t bad for a state with a population of less than three million. We even have a state tour of ales. The local brew scene was recently celebrated at Ski Santa Fe’s BrewSki 2017 event. At the Ski Santa Fe mid-mountain lodge, Albuquerque and Santa Fe breweries flowed into happy patrons’ cups, while sitting on a sun-soaked deck, an 80 inch snow base, and live music being heard across the mountain. My choice: go with anything from Boxing Bear Brewery, which quickly became an Albuquerque institution. I’m also partial to Santa Fe Brewing Company’s Happy Camper. The snow is good and the local brews are great (a pint will usually run about $5). Remember, New Mexico is high desert, so watch how much alcohol you consume as dehydration and altitude means booze has a stronger effect on you than at sea level.
When the afternoon hunger gets to you, I want a Taos Mountain Energy Bar. Manufactured in the same area as Taos Ski Valley, Red River Ski & Summer Area, and Angel Fire Ski Resort, these are extremely tasty energy bars with a national audience. Found now across the United States, our local energy bar is both healthy and portable (perfect to stash into a ski jacket pouch). I usually grab the chocolate butterscotch because my sweet tooth likes the flavor, but the energy from its peanut butter and flax seeds helps me do one more run full of moguls (under $3). I may grab another bar for the drive home before I hit up a New Mexico dinner.
New Mexico Cuisine: Kinda, but Not Really Mexican
New Mexico food will look similar on the menu to what you’ve seen at may Mexican restaurants as Spanish influences are present in both, but we tweak it a little. First, expect cheese. We love cheese. We smother our enchiladas with it and cheese melts inside our breakfast burritos. Next, you’ll see blue corn tortillas alongside more common flour and corn tortillas (some pizza places even have blue corn pizza dough!). I usually don’t even look at menus anymore. I just ask for blue corn chicken enchiladas with Christmas. And then a sopapilla – a flakey sweet square dough that inflates to resemble a pillow – that I fill with local New Mexico honey. New Mexico honey isn’t as sweet as most honey as New Mexican bees pollinate lavender fields, so expect a fragrant and succulent honey inside your sopapilla.
With your belly full of green chile stew, local IPA, and our take on classic dishes, you are gonna have to ski tomorrow to start burning off the calories. Not a bad way to spend a weekend – skiing, sunshine, affordable grub, and green chile.