FOOD Grilled green chile stew

Grilled green chile stew is the perfect treat. (Arie Levaux/Flash in the Pan)

After seven enchanting years in New Mexico, I became part native. Especially my stomach. Early fall was my favorite time, in part because the end of another hot summer always brought a sweet relief, but mostly because of a certain aroma that wafted up and down the Rio Grande Valley this time of year. The large-scale roasting of green chile fills the air with a magic pungency that grounds you to that arid landscape like autumn foliage and cider do in New England.

Green chile has transformational powers on food. It can turn a cheeseburger into a green chile cheeseburger, or scrambled eggs into green chile scrambled eggs. This simple modification sounds elementary, but results in a quantum leap in flavor.

And then there is green chile the main course. This stew is not to be confused with “chili,” the midwestern concoction that resembles a Sloppy Joe with beans that somehow found its way to Texas. A New Mexico green chile stew is brothy and nuanced, like the evening breeze after a monsoon rain.

But while roasted green chile peppers, and the delicious foods they elevate, are central to its identity, New Mexico hardly has a monopoly on growing, roasting and preparing green chile. There is nothing about the local soil or the rain or anything else that makes New Mexico green chile intrinsically better than green chile grown in New Jersey.

The key difference is that a farmer will get a better yield in Hatch, NM then Duluth, MN. But the most important thing — more important than where it was grown or what variety — is simply that the chile be harvested at the proper time. Otherwise, the flavor will be off.

Green chile is, by definition, an unripe chile. Left to their own devices, each pepper on earth will eventually turn red, just like every maple leaf. The trick is to harvest the chile just before it starts to turn red. Since they are all green until that point, the only way to tell if the chile are ready to harvest is by tasting. Alas, most farmers outside of New Mexico don’t seem to know what a green chile tastes like.

If it has splotches of yellow or red, that’s fine. In fact they have a word in New Mexico for when you mix red and green chile together. They call it “Christmas.”

When I put green chile on the grill, it’s for one of three reasons. Roasted green chile freezes really well — a lot better than fresh peppers. In addition to the freezer bag, roasted green chile are additionally protected by a skin that slips right off when you are ready to use it.

Another reason to have green chile on the grill is because there is also meat on the grill, and green chile is like a fine wine when it comes to bringing out the flavor of meat.

The final reason to have green chile on the grill is to make a pot of green chile. And when I do that, I put the other ingredients on the grill as well, including tomatoes, potatoes, onions, corn and meat. After they develop their best selves atop the flaming coals, I put the ingredients in a pot and make chile.

To read the recipe, visit https://arilevaux.com/green-chile/

Ari LeVaux writes from Montana. He can be reached at lavo@montana.com.

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