Red or Green? Make it Christmas

Go to any restaurant in Northern New Mexico serving traditional local food and the waiter will invariably ask: Red or green? The waiter means the type of chile, which is used in a sauce to smother such dishes as burritos and enchiladas.

Orlando’s Shrimp Burrito
with red and green AKA Christmas

Actually, “red or green?” is the official question of New Mexico.

So what do I answer? Christmas. That means I want both.

(By the way, before I go on, I’d like to explain chile is the vegetable, pepper. Chili is the dish with meat or beans, popular in Texas and Oklahoma. Of course, it needs chile to make it spicy.)

When I first came to Taos, I wanted to try both red and green. I like to compare. I still do. So I learned to say Christmas without feeling self-conscious.  (The one exception is the Shrimp Diablo at the Guadalajara Grill. It only comes in a fiery red sauce.)

Chiles — there are many varieties — are green first and then turn red as they ripen on the plant. Green is made from fresh chiles; red, typically from dry. Green is supposed to be hotter than red. Every year at the local school science fairs, at least one student does a project about the healing powers of chile.

In the fall, green chiles grown in Hatch make their way north. People buy them by the burlap bag at the grocery store. Chile roasters — gas-fired mesh barrels that are hand-turned — are set outside supermarkets. The smell is heavenly and a sign fall is here. The roasted chiles are then frozen for use year round.

I buy only a small batch of roasted green chiles. I freeze them separately so I can defrost them one at a time to use in soup. I have a few left still. 

Hank and Zack wait at the fire pit
outside Orlando’s.

Whenever we have out-of-town visitors, we always take them to Orlando’s. Yes, there are many other restaurants serving New Mexican fare, but this is one of our favorites. We like the atmosphere. Walls painted in jarring colors. Great tinwork. In the winter, waiting diners sit around a fire pit. Now that the weather has warmed the pit area has been replaced with tables for dining.

Our friend Joanie
with the dish she ordered at Orlando’s.

And then, there is the food. One never leaves hungry at Orlando’s. Hank always, always gets the Blue Corn Shrimp Enchiladas. I like the burritos, usually the shrimp, with are smothered with chile, my choice of course. The dish comes with a side of pinto beans, chopped salad, and posole.

We took visiting friends there last week. The red and green had a bit of a kick to them, just the way I like it.