Red chili is the cornerstone of Northern New Mexican cooking. If you’ve ever traveled to New Mexico, you’ve no doubt sampled it in one form or another. The word chili usually conjures up images of chunky meat and bean stews. In New Mexico, when someone says chili they are usually referring to a chili sauce made from red or green chilies. Outside of New Mexico, I typically call it chili sauce for clarity’s sake. Around our house, we just call it red for short as in “those tamales would be way better with a little red on top.” Red chili is most commonly used as a sauce for enchiladas, but you can smother virtually any New Mexican and many non-New Mexican dishes with it. In homes, it is offered as a general condiment, available to be drizzled on whatever you happen to be eating that day. Tacos, corn chips, fried potatoes…it all tastes better with a dash of red chili. I personally love it over beans and fried eggs.

When I first visited New Mexico, I had no experience with red chili other than on enchiladas. Even then, the sauce that I was used to was a milder, tomato-based concoction. I was slightly taken aback by this thick, spicy, deeply red chili sauce that I kept seeing all over Santa Fe. I was even more surprised when Robert’s family offered it to me as a topping for mashed potatoes at their Thanksgiving feast. What, no gravy? I was hooked immediately. These days, I can’t imagine mashed potatoes without red chili. This has since become a traditional Thanksgiving dish in my family as well. It is delicious and also adds a much needed splash of color to the plate (let’s face it, outside of cranberry sauce, Thanksgiving dinner tends to be a little beige).

In its most basic form, red chili is little more than dried red chilies blended with water and perhaps a chopped onion or some garlic. As with all basic recipes, numerous variations exist. Some people make their red chili from whole dried chili pods whereas others prefer the convenience of powdered chilies. Some people add tomatoes, some use stock in place of water, some even add chopped pine nuts! Although Chiles de Ristra (a.k.a. New Mexican red chilies) are the conventional choice, you can make red chili from nearly any type of dried chili. Depending on what you use, your chili may be hot, mild, smoky, or even a tad sweet. Everyone’s got their own family recipe and, not surprisingly, no two are alike.

This Thanksgiving, I wanted to make sure my red chili was extra delicious. I have always been somewhat timid about how much chili powder I use, but I was inspired by the intense red chili I had at The Shed when we were in Santa Fe. I decided it was time to go bold and that meant doubling the amount of chili in my recipe to a whopping ½ cup! My adjustment paid off and my chili turned out fantastic, just like the reds I’d had in New Mexico. My family raved about it at Thanksgiving dinner. I finally have a red chili recipe worth writing home about. The only downside is that we are now going to blow through our precious stash of powdered red chili faster than ever!

Elliemay’s Red Chili

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup powdered red chilies*
2½ cups water or stock
½ cup chopped canned tomatoes
salt to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until it turns a tan color (take care to avoid burning the flour). Add the cumin, oregano, chili powder, stock or water and tomatoes. Use a whisk to break up any clumps. Bring to a gentle boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for several minutes until thickened. Season to taste with salt. Puree the chili in a blender until smooth (a hand-held immersion blender works really well here).

Makes about 2 cups

*Avoid using commercial products labeled “chili powder.” These products are meant for seasoning chili con carne and contain lots of spices other than chilies. For this recipe, you want pure ground red chilies.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment