Editor's Note: Unfortunately after this story went to press, Liu Liu Liu closed temporarily with hopes of reopening in June. As of mid-month, a voicemail message indicates that the restaurant has closed permanently. You can still get a taste of Chef Elizabeth Blankenship's fare by trying her sweet potato dumplings with the recipe below.

IN A CHEF'S CONSTANT PURSUIT of new dishes, flavors, and gastronomic gimmicks, creativity can too often spill over into culinary chaos. Fusion cookery becomes confusion cookery, leaving diners bewildered, perplexed, or downright turned off. I well remember a misguided dish of chicken glazed in a chocolate-and-peanut-butter mole. It sounded intriguing, given that many moles contain those ingredients, but it never left the cloyingly sweet Reese’s candy realm. A major dish fail.

Ingredients shoehorned in to share a recipe with other elements or exotic flavors can sometimes make for an unhappy marriage. But when the combo works—eureka!—new cuisines are born. New Mexico fare is already a fusion. Many of our dishes, ingredients, and cooking styles carry Native American, Mexican, and European roots.

The stars of the show are our celebrated chiles, which garner huge curiosity among foodies from around the globe and fire the imaginations of chefs and home cooks. Fans of all cuisines like to fiddle with our favored ingredients and incorporate them in unexpected but often delicious ways.

Although brick-and-mortar establishments have long dabbled in this fusion experimentation, I noticed an explosion of food trucks and grab-and-go eateries joining them over the past year. New Mexican favorites such as tacos and other tortilla-centric dishes seem to be primary targets for this culinary blending, with Asian ingredients often holding the other side of the flavor balance.

At Albuquerque’s Cafe Nom Nom, chef Nam Thai Tran credits his mother—“Chef Mum,” as he calls her—for giving him the Vietnamese culinary training that set the bones of his creative menu. Arriving from Saigon in 1975 as a three-year-old, Tran has had an eclectic career as both restaurant chef and successful hair salon entrepreneur.

When a restaurant space became available in the building that housed one of his salons, Tran snapped it up. In planning the name of his new venture, he decided on a fractured version of his own name—nom nom—a slang term that many of us use to express the pleasure of eating. What started off as a food truck and a three-days-a-week stint at Boxing Bear Brewery’s Corrales location has grown into a complete takeover of the kitchen.

Throughout the menu, Tran has fun combining Vietnamese flavors with New Mexican favorites. In his Angry Edamame, swirls of hot red chile fire up the standard Japanese nibble. His Saigon Street Quesadilla boasts house-made green chile kimchi (available for sale by the jar), bean sprouts, hoisin and sriracha sauces, and cilantro, mint, and black sesame seed garnishes.

The additions of jasmine rice and homemade wasabi aioli to his street tacos make them a clever take on the ubiquitous Tuesday fave. Fiery bulgogi beef gives his rice bowl a tasty Korean spin. The classic banh mi gets an East-meets-Southwest kick from more of the kimchi.

In Santa Fe, the year-old Liu Liu Liu restaurant (which has since closed) has an intriguing high-end menu of unexpected pairings and bursts of flavor. Chef Elizabeth Blankstein credits her Taiwanese heritage and tenure in a variety of cuisines for her fusion skill. With her partner, Cameron Markham, she settled in Santa Fe after working in and designing high-profile California restaurants. The couple’s off-the-beaten-track City Different location has become a popular destination for diners looking for an adventurous dining experience.

At Liu Liu Liu (named for the Mandarin pronunciation of 666, a lucky number in Taiwanese culture), the menu lists each dish by its main element, rather than a clever name. Bean Curd is simply listed with its accompaniments: peanuts, carrots, cucumber, and cilantro. This challenges diners to, in effect, put the flavors together in their minds and on their tongues. With dishes offered in shareable portions, the experience inspires conversation and debate.

Remembering her childhood visits to the night markets in Taipei, Blankstein reinvents her memories of dishes to create her own style. Markham, who grew up in New Mexico, adds his well-traveled palate and 25 years as a chef and back-of-house wizard.

Yummy fusions on their Asian-Southwestern-French menu include slices of a sharply tart raw Thai eggplant with a creamy black sesame hummus, warm, greaseless sopaipilla squares with a silky chicken liver mousse, and lamb-filled sweet potato dumplings with a green chile soy glaze. Popcorn fried chicken gets a French gussy-up with Périgord black truffles, while a decadently dense chocolate tart carries a hint of mezcal.

The menu pops with surprises, and Blankstein’s firm handle gives diners the confidence to go along with her flow. No Reese’s candy sauce here.

Other fusion options around the state I can’t wait to try include the Green Chile Tempura Roll at Pacific Rim, in Hobbs; the Can-cún Roll at Aqua Reef, in Las Cruces; Green Chile Spicy Fried Rice at Fareast Fuzion, in Albuquerque; Taoseño Rice at Gutiz Restaurant, in Taos; and the North African Spiced Lamb Burger at Jambo Café, in Santa Fe.

Set aside your preconceived ideas of what goes with what and let your palate’s curiosity guide you. Try these three recipes to get you off and blending.

Green Chile Cannellini Bean Dip with Grilled Fennel & TortillasGreen Chile Cannellini Bean Dip with Grilled Fennel & Tortillas

I developed this vegetarian recipe for New Mexico Flavors in World Cuisine, a class I offer at Las Cosas Cooking School. Give the healthy dip a New Mexico kick with green chile and serve it with smoky grilled fennel and crispy tortilla chips.


15-ounce can of white cannellini beans, drained

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

⅓ cup tahini (ground sesame seeds)

¼ cup New Mexico green chile, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper


2 medium heads fennel

2 teaspoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

4 6-inch flour tortillas

Serves 6


  1. Combine the dip ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Check the seasonings and adjust with additional salt if necessary.
  2. Meanwhile, peel the outermost layer from the fennel bulbs. Cut each in half lengthwise and cut away the core. Lay halves cut-side down on a cutting board and slice lengthwise into finger-size wedges. Place wedges in a medium bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Using a vegetable grill basket, grill fennel until lightly charred, about 4 minutes per side. Set aside.
  4. Grill the tortillas briefly on each side to create grill marks and warm them. Stack and cut into 8 wedges.
  5. Drizzle dip with additional olive oil and serve.

Chef Nam Thai Tran at Cafe Nom Nom gives his Mexican quesadillas a twist by adding classic Asian ingredients. He uses 14-inch tortillas for a whopping quesadilla. I recommend 10-inch tortillas.


1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sriracha

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Pinch of sea salt

¼ teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon organic sugar


1 pound boneless rib-eye

1½ tablespoons soy sauce

1½ teaspoons organic sugar

1 tablespoon minced garlic

3 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil


4 10-inch flour tortillas

4 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup sliced fresh jalapeños

½ cup sliced red onion

½ cup fresh bean sprouts

¼ cup hoisin sauce

3 tablespoons sesame oil

1 bunch cilantro leaves

1 bunch mint leaves

Black sesame seeds

Serves 4


  1. For the sriracha aioli, whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Wrap steak in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Unwrap and cut across the grain into ¼-inch-thick slices.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and sesame oil. In a gallon-size Ziploc bag, combine marinade and steak; marinate for at least 2 hours (24 hours is fine), turning the bag occasionally.
  4. Chop mint and cilantro leaves and mix in a small bowl.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a cast-iron grill pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the steak slices to the grill pan in a single layer and cook, flipping once, until charred and cooked through, about 2–3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and steak. Set aside.
  6. Preheat oven to 450°. Place tortillas on a cookie sheet. Divide the cheese, jalapeños, onion, bean sprouts, and strips of beef over half of each tortilla. Top it off with a little more cheese and drizzle with sriracha, hoisin, and a light sprinkle of sesame oil; fold the tortilla over to create a half circle. Press down to seal.
  7. Place sheet into the oven and bake 4–5 minutes. The tortillas will inflate slightly and begin to crisp. Don’t allow them to get too dark.
  8. Sprinkle on some black sesame seeds and cilantro/mint mixture and serve with the hoisin and sriracha aioli.

Although this is a multiple-step recipe, the results are deliciously worth it. Make extra dumplings and freeze. The yield will vary depending on the size of your sweet potatoes and how much filling you pack into each dumpling.


3 medium sweet potatoes


2 cups all-purpose flour

Hot water


1½ bunches of parsley

2 bunches of cilantro

1 bunch of mint

3 tablespoons minced garlic

¼ cup sesame oil

Zest of one whole lemon

Salt to taste


1½ cups soy sauce

½ cup unseasoned rice vinegar

1 cup New Mexico green chile, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped

2 tablespoons minced ginger

¼ cup sesame oil


1 cup sweet potato puree

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons brown sugar




Edible flowers


1 pound ground lamb (Liu Liu Liu uses Shepherd’s Lamb, from Chama, organiclamb.com)

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1½ teaspoons harissa

1 tablespoon Sichuan red chile flakes

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine

1½ tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

5 green onions, tops and roots removed, finely chopped

1 egg, whisked

Serves 6



  1. Peel potatoes and cut into cubes. Place in a large soup pot, cover with water, and boil until soft, 25–30 minutes. Drain, saving some of the cooking liquid.
  2. Whir cooked potatoes in a blender along with ¼ cup of cooking liquid until smooth. Set aside; this will be used for the dough, the filling, the sauce, and a smear.


  1. Place flour in a medium mixing bowl. Add ⅓ cup of sweet potato puree and ½ cup hot water. Mix with a spoon to form a dough.
  2. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it forms a cohesive ball, adding more flour if necessary. Cover and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to ⅛ inch thick. Use a circular 4-inch-diameter mold to cut and portion dumpling wrappers. This should make approximately 24 wrappers. Cover and chill circles of dough.


  1. Chop all ingredients together. (Whirring in a food processor works well.) Set aside.


  1. Blend all ingredients until smooth. Set aside.


  1. In a small saucepan, mix the ingredients over medium heat. Stir and cook until thick. Keep warm.


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix gently.
  2. Take 1 circle of the sweet potato dough and lightly stretch the edges, like a pizza dough. Smear ¼ teaspoon of sweet potato puree onto its center and top with 1½ teaspoons of lamb mixture. Try to push the lamb down so it’s flat in the center to make it easier to wrap.
  3. Dab a bit of water around the edges; it will act as glue. Use both thumbs and index fingers to form the dumpling into a triangle, pushing each side to meet in the center. Seal them with a pinch. (YouTube videos are helpful for a demonstration.)
  4. In a bamboo steamer over boiling water, place dumplings in one layer and steam for 10 minutes.
  5. Place ¼ cup of the sweet potato sauce in the center of each warmed dinner plate. Divide dumplings among the plates and brush with a scant amount of the green chile soy glaze.
  6. Sprinkle sesame oil gremolata over the top and garnish with sumac and edible flowers.