The holiday season in New Mexico is a distinct experience that leaves a lasting impact on the five senses. Months later you can close your eyes and still see the glowing luminarias, smell the piñon wood, feel the crisp winter air, hear the carolers, and, above all, taste the unforgettable flavors of the region.
The holidays in the Land of Enchantment are a time to honor traditions with special foods. For centuries, New Mexicans have enjoyed a few unique delicacies that have become synonymous with the season — biscochitos, posole, empanadas, and tamales.
These spicy, anise-flavored cookies are rich, crisp, and very easy to make. Biscochitos are the holiday cookie staple in New Mexico and were declared the Official State Cookie by the New Mexico Legislature in 1989. Biscochitos were first introduced by Spanish settlers who brought the old world recipe to Mexico and later north to Santa Fe and other New Mexican settlements.
Posole or Pozole is a spicy corn stew traditionally made with pork. New Mexicans have been enjoying posole for centuries as a ceremonial dish for celebrating life’s blessings. Traditional posole is made with large kernel white corn that has been soaked in a solution of lime and then is dehydrated. Hominy is often used as a substitution for true posole.
The word empanada comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. These delicious little pastries are made by wrapping a round dough pastry in half over a filling (meat, seafood, vegetable, or fruits), making a semicircle that is then baked or fried. Empanadas are a delicious holiday tradition in many New Mexican homes.
Nothing says holidays to many New Mexicans like a warm tamale. Unwrapping the tamale is like unwrapping a little present. Tamales consist of a cornmeal dough made from hominy (called masa) and are usually filled with sweet or savory filling, wrapped in corn husks and steamed until firm. Tamales were one of the staples found by the Spanish when they first arrived in Mexico. Because preparing tamales is very time intensive, they are often made in large batches for special occasions with many people in a family or community participating in the tradition. Pork and red chile tamales are some of the most common in the Southwest and can be found in restaurants, cafes, and even in coolers toted by strolling vendors.
Wherever your New Mexico winter sports activities take you this season, make time to enjoy the delicious tastes of the holidays. You’ll find unforgettable flavors offered at or around every ski area in the Land of Enchantment. Whether you’re indulging in an old favorite or trying a taste of something new, the flavors of New Mexico will stay with you long after your vacation ends.