CELINA ALDAZ-GRIFE, founder and co-owner of Celina’s Biscochitos, in Albuquerque, says her biscochitos often bring customers to tears as they think back to their own grandmothers, aunts, or mothers baking the customary Christmas cookie. Traditionalists, though, have sometimes become heated upon discovering that she’s riffed on the recipe with versions like red chile, green chile–pecan, lemon, and walnut-cranberry. “One thing I’ve learned is that it’s extremely personal to people,” Aldaz-Grife says. “I went into this thinking I was just making cookies. I realized I’m making something that means so much more.” Even as she adapts her grandma Maggie’s biscochito recipe, she makes sure each one is recognizably a biscochito. “We don’t want to stray away so far from the tradition that you can’t taste the original,” she says.
Like her, three other New Mexico chefs take similar liberties with some of the state’s favorite holiday treats. Among them: Chef Brent Moore of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Pueblo Harvest Café, in Albuquerque. Native Americans, he notes, once ate only heritage crops, like corn, beans, and squash; foraged for ingredients, like sage and wild spinach; and hunted wild game, like deer and rabbit. Some tribal members are returning to these pre-European-contact ingredients—a journey that Roxanne Swentzell chronicles in The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook. Moore taps into the trend, too, albeit by adding modern culinary flair. “It’s a fine line between tradition and innovation,” he says. “We’re trying to highlight these old flavors without losing ourselves in it.”
When he was in elementary school, Jeff Posa’s side gig was lugging buckets of tamales made by his grandmother Aurora Lujan to sell at the Roundhouse. She founded the tamale-centric family business in 1955 and ran it until his parents took over in 1976. Jeff took the helm in 1990, overseeing Posa’s El Merendero Tamale Factory and Restaurant, renowned for making each tamale by hand—about 12,000 a day during the Christmas season. In addition to ordering the classics, customers requested vegetarian and vegan options, so Posa’s added green chile–cheese and calabacitas–black bean varieties, which have become a tradition over time, too.
CELINA’S BISCOCHITOS’ CRANBERRY-WALNUT BISCOCHITOS
Celina Aldaz-Grife bakes this variety from November through Christmas; $17 for two dozen, in person or online (404 Osuna Road NW, Suite A, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 505-269-4997, celinasbiscochitos.com).
PUEBLO HARVEST CAFÉ’S PRE-CONTACT PUEBLO PUDDING
This was a popular item last year, and Chef Brent Moore plans to bring this recipe back to his winter menu. He garnishes it with a glass-like ginger candy and candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds) to highlight contemporary culinary techniques (2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque, 505-724-3510, puebloharvestcafe.com).
POSA’S GREEN CHILE–CHEESE TAMALES
CHURCH STREET CAFÉ’S GREEN CHILE POSOLE
Church Street Café serves Christmas Eve dinner, but you’ll need to make a reservation in October. “If you see balloons, then it’s time to make a reservation,” owner Marie Coleman says, referencing the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Thankfully, the green chile posole is on the menu year-round (2111 Church St. NW, Albuquerque, 505-247-8522).