Photography: Sergio Salvador/Courtesy Dave Dewitt

The chile has never had a better PR machine than it has in this culinary historian.

Dave DeWitt is a food historian and the author of Dishing Up New Mexico: 145 Recipes From the Land of Enchantment. DeWitt has published about 50 other books (and counting), most of which have the word “spicy,” “fiery,” or “pepper” in their titles. He has been dubbed “The Pope of Peppers” by The New York Times, and he travels the country promoting uses of the chile. DeWitt is the best PR machine the chile has ever seen.

“New Mexico’s love for and dependence on the chile pepper is the most obvious thing that sets our cuisine apart,” DeWitt says. “New Mexico has two state vegetables: the chile pepper and the pinto bean. Neither of those are actually veggies. The pepper is a fruit, and the pinto bean is a legume.”

So which chile is the chile pepper expert’s favorite? “New Mexico chiles are my favorite. They’re the most versatile that I have found,” DeWitt says. “I prefer red to green. When you think about how fruit ripens, the red fruit is more mature and more complex. There’s just a depth of flavor that exceeds the green chile.”

Photography: Wes Naman/Courtesy Dave Dewitt

Stacked Red Chile Enchiladas

(Serves 4)

6 – 8 dried red New Mexico chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon ground Mexican oregano
½ pound pork, cubed from a roast or chops
1 – 1½ pounds lean ground beef
12 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cups grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1 medium onion, chopped

Cover the chiles with very hot water and soak for 20 – 30 minutes or until limp and partially rehydrated. Place the chiles in the blender (they should loosely fill three-fourths of the container; if more, make 2 small batches). Fill the container up nearly to the top with water. Drop in the clove of garlic and sprinkle the top with the oregano. Add a little salt at this stage if you wish. Blend for 2 – 3 minutes on high or until a homogeneous orange-red mixture is obtained.

Pour the mixture into a saucepan and add the pork. Cook, covered over a very low heat or uncovered at a slight bubble, for 2 – 3 hours. If cooked uncovered, periodically add water back to original level to maintain proper consistency, which can only be described as medium soupy.

Remove the pork pieces and save for another meal such as carne adovada. Place the chile sauce in the refrigerator and cool. Remove any fat that congeals on the top.

Season the beef with a little salt and pepper and sauté in a skillet until the meat is no longer pink. Combine the sauce and beef and simmer, covered, for an additional 30 – 45 minutes.

Fry 3 tortillas per person in a couple of inches of oil until they are slightly harder than taco shells. As they are removed from the oil with tongs, dip each into the red chile pot until they are fully submerged. Remove, place on an oven-safe dish and top with some cheese and onion. Continue the process until the tortillas are stacked 3 high on each plate.

Ladle red chile, including a small amount of the meat, over the tortilla stack until it is puddled up as deep as it will stand around the base of the stack. Cover the enchiladas lightly with grated cheese and place in a 250-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Recipe adapted and edited from Southwest Table: Traditional Cuisine From Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011) with permission of the author.

From the October 2017 Taste of the West issue.

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