When I hear bad news, my first inclination is to eat. While that’s perhaps not the most constructive way to deal with stress, it does make life better, at least temporarily. Some people like to indulge in sweet things when they’re feeling anxious, but I’ve always leaned towards the savory. I’ll take starch over sugar any day.
Recent events had me feeling out of sorts, and true to my nature I wanted a comforting dish. My first thought was to make macaroni and cheese, but I checked my inbox and saw a letter from a reader inquiring if I had a recipe for green chile corn casserole to share. He explained that he’d been craving it, and since he had lots of sweet corn and Hatch chiles, he wanted to put to them to good use.
Corn casserole or corn pudding, as it’s traditionally known, is an old Texan favorite. While these days we typically think of pudding as being dessert, hundreds of years ago it was defined as a dish thickened with grains, which meant puddings could be both sweet and savory.
Early Texan recipes for corn pudding were made with only corn, eggs, and cream with maybe a touch of sugar. Along the way, however, recipes evolved and people started adding aromatics, cornmeal, cheese, and sometimes even chiles, too. Indeed, when all those ingredients come together, it does make for solace in a dish. My reader had the right idea, and I knew what I would make.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015
The other day a friend in Texas was telling me about all the Hatch chile items she’d bought at the store on a recent visit. Besides whole roasted chile peppers, she also picked up salsa, tortillas, cobbler, and chips. But the thing she gushed about the most was a limited-edition Hatch chile chicken salad. “We ate the whole container in one sitting,” she said.
Chicken salad is something that I enjoy, especially when it's hot outside, but I’ve never felt compelled to eat a whole quart at one time. My interest piqued, I asked my friend what made the chicken salad so special. She explained that it was your basic chicken salad but it had been livened up with green chiles and corn. Those two ingredients took it to another realm, as the peppers added some heat and the corn gave the salad a sweet crunch.
Now when you think of Texan cuisine, I will admit that chicken salad isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet there are written records of it being served as far back as the 1850s and there are no less than six recipes for chicken salad in The First Texas Cookbook published in 1883. While perhaps it’s not considered an iconic Texan dish today, it is still very much a part of the state’s culinary history.
The chicken salads I grew up eating were usually made with chicken, pecans, and grapes, combined with either an herbed or a curried mayonnaise. Both are very good and perhaps I’ll discuss them further at another time. (Then there is my great-grandma Blanche's version with lemon gelatin, which I will probably not discuss at another time.) But the chicken salad my friend described with green chiles was new to me, and since I was curious if it was as wonderful as she said, I decided to make my own version at home.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
This summer has gone by fast and I’m still a little surprised that it’s August and people are returning to school. I’ve spent my summer working, which is not a complaint because I love what I do. But it I am disappointed that I haven’t had the time to make a trip to West Texas, which is one of my favorite places to unwind.
While I cherish the rugged vistas and laid-back people you find in West Texas, one of my favorite things about this region is the food, as it varies from the rest of the state. For instance, you’ll find dishes such as stacked enchiladas and red chile-based stews that aren’t typical to other parts of Texas.
But one of the main things I love about West Texan cuisine is the assertive presence of long, green chiles. These chiles, which are locally grown near El Paso in both Texas and New Mexico, are generously added to their salsas, stews, and enchiladas, among many other things. And while August is a time when many celebrate these chiles, in West Texas, green chiles are cherished throughout the year.
To eat long, green chiles—whether it’s a Hatch, a green chile that has been cultivated and grown in Hatch, New Mexico; an Anaheim, to which the Hatch is related; or a poblano chile, a darker, wider chile than the others—you first need to roast them in order to remove the tough skin. Because this is done, the chiles not only contain their bright, earthy flavor but also carry a hint of smoke from the roasting, which makes them all the more robust and appealing.