SOUTHERN NEW MEXICO'S fertile Mesilla Valley enjoys global fame for its abundant green chile crop. But on a recent visit, I was surprised to discover that onions, cabbages, pecans, pinto beans, pumpkins, peanuts, and even watermelons also thrive here, all fed by the waters of the Río Grande.
That makes it a perfect setting for the farm store and café called FARMesilla, a half mile north of the historic Mesilla Plaza, near Las Cruces. The stylish business, which opened in August of 2018, comfortably fills its niches as gift shop; boutique beer, wine, and spirits store; coffee and pastry bar; sundries market; gourmet food emporium; local produce stand; tourist stop; and locals’ hangout.
This time of year, as the green chile crop comes in, it grows into a must-visit spot for scoring your season’s worth—roasted and peeled on-site for immediate enjoyment.
Every item sold in the shop comes from New Mexico merchants, makers, ranchers, or farmers. Chefs, home cooks, and visitors love it. (If you can’t buy all your Christmas presents here, you’re not trying.)
TJ Runyan created this gem. As the founder and owner of Mesilla Valley Produce, which ships throughout North America, he possesses a unique understanding of the wealth of local crops. “I grew up on our family’s ranch outside of Piñon,” he says. “As a kid, we always had a small truck-farm and apple stand. I spent a lot of time there in my younger days, helping out, and I always enjoyed meeting people. It felt that a niche shop like this would do well in Mesilla.”
In February 2020, chef Becky Windels joined the team and further developed the menu. Now, for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, foodies can enjoy green chile and cheddar polenta with a runny-yolk farm egg and fiery house-made serrano bacon; a baby-kale-and-cabbage Caesar salad with blue corn tortilla strips; or a chile-lime avocado and quinoa protein bowl with red Fresno chile, bourbon pepitas, dried corn, and organic black beans.
A veteran restaurant and catering business owner, Windels adores choosing ingredients from the pantry just beyond her kitchen for blue corn tamales and this summer’s wildly popular Sonoran hot dogs.
Windels was born in Maryland, but her family soon moved to Montana. She’s been a Westerner ever since, logging time in Colorado and Arizona. “I was a chile-head before I knew it,” she says. “My mom was a healthy cook who used natural ingredients and made everything from scratch, so I grew up eating homemade food. I started out in the business as a waitress, but I was terrible. I eventually ended up in the kitchen, where I felt at home and could be creative.”
During her time in Phoenix, she and a partner opened a catering business that has thrived for more than 20 years. “It was a lot of work. At one stage we had the catering biz, two restaurants, and a market,” she says. “We were so successful that I felt I needed an exit strategy.” By then, her husband’s parents had built a home in Las Cruces, and she visited often. The region’s bounty of produce proved irresistible.
Upon moving to New Mexico, she worked in a few local restaurants before coming up with an idea to “audition” for FARMesilla. “I looked around to see what ingredients I might play with,” she says. “Then I made a sampling of some dishes utilizing pintos, chiles, pumpkins, and green chile sausage and brought the dishes to the owners to sample.” Her ploy played off; she was hired as the business’s first true chef.
“The kitchen at that time was basically a juicing and food-heating kitchen,” she says. “I adapted it to prep a full menu. I create the whole menu using a small oven and a pressure cooker. I was lucky to be given complete creative reign on the menu and the packaged products we sell.”
When Covid hit, she expanded the to-go menu. “Business went through the roof,” she says. “I think our strong sense of and support from the community really helped us. Some people who didn’t feel comfortable shopping in a big grocery store felt safer here.”
In 2021, FARMesilla added New Mexico-made wine and spirits. “I think we are paving the way for more creative food concepts in Las Cruces,” she says. “I keep developing house-made products with layers of flavors and an element of surprise.”
As I prepare to wander the store, Windels points out some of her favorite items, imploring me not to miss the small-batch tequilas. “I also love Tucumcari Mountain cheeses, Talus Winds heritage meats, and Bluefly Farms sparkling waters,” she says.
I feel like a kid in a candy store. Apart from the packaged and bottled items, the shop’s freezers are stocked with chile, local meats, and sausages. The produce is beautiful. The refrigerated case holds prepared salads and sandwiches and bottles of zippy, house-made Carrot Habanero Hot Sauce.
You can eat indoors or on the patio, or pack it all up for a picnic. I choose to end the visit with a slab of Windels’s amazing chocolate beetroot cake with dark chocolate espresso frosting—a wonder to behold. While leaving, I pass a young family—parents, a baby in a stroller, and a tyke under five. How wonderful, I think, to see the next generation of foodies introduced to the joys of FARMesilla.
This multistep recipe can feed a large family. Becky Windels tops each bowl with eggs, queso fresco, chile morita verde sauce, and sweet-hot serrano bacon. She shares the full recipe below—except for the bacon. That’s top secret. You’ll have to substitute your favorite brand of bacon here and visit FARMesilla to experience the real thing.
3½ cups water
½ cup New Mexico green chile, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup polenta (instant is fine)
3 ounces Tucumcari Mountain smoked gouda cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
FARMESILLA CHILE MORITA VERDE SAUCE
1¼ pounds tomatillos, peeled and rinsed
2 tablespoon Dry Point or other bourbon
6 whole morita* chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 cup low-salt vegetable or chicken stock
1 teaspoon sea salt
Butter for coating the pan
Vegetable oil spray
12 large, farm-fresh eggs
Salt and pepper
1½ cups Tucumcari Mountain green chile cheddar cheese, shredded
24 slices of bacon, cooked crisp
¼ cup queso fresco
4 spring onions, diced
FARMesilla Habanero Carrot Hot Sauce
1. In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Stir in chile and whisk in polenta. Continue to stir with a wooden spoon until mixture has thickened and the polenta starts to pull away from the sides of the pot.
2. Stir in cheese and season with salt.
3. While polenta is still warm, pour into a buttered 9-by-13-inch pan. Let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate. (You can do this a day in advance.)
FARMESILLA CHILE MORITA VERDE SAUCE
1. Heat a cast-iron frying pan or other heavy-bottomed pan until hot. Add the tomatillos and cook, turning occasionally, until blistered, 12 to 15 minutes.
2. Remove tomatillos from pan and turn off heat. Use the bourbon to carefully deglaze the pan, scraping up any bits from the bottom.
3. Soak the morita chiles in hot water until soft and pliable (about 20 minutes). In a blender, purée chiles until smooth, adding just enough of the chile water to make a paste. Set aside.
4. Add tomatillos, garlic, glaze from the pan, and stock to the blender. Purée until still somewhat chunky. Add 1 tablespoon of the morita purée, reserving the remainder for another use. (Add more purée if you prefer a hotter sauce.) Season with salt.
*Morita chiles are a type of chipotle pepper—a smoked, dried version of red jalapeños. A substitute would be chipotle, but Chef Becky Windels prefers the dark, rich flavor of this variety.
1. Cut the cooled polenta in to 3-by-3-inch squares, each approximately ½ inch thick. You should have 12 squares. Butter a large frying pan or griddle and warm the squares; set aside and keep warm.
2. Lightly coat twelve 6-ounce ramekins with vegetable spray. Gently crack 1 egg into each container. Bake in a 350° preheated oven, on the middle rack, for exactly 3½ minutes. You should see only partially cooked whites at this stage. (You can also gently fry the eggs in a large, oiled pan.)
3. Remove ramekins from oven and lightly salt and pepper each egg. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons cheddar cheese over each egg and return to the oven for 3½ to 4 minutes, until egg whites are slightly puffy but yolks are still golden and runny.
4. In each of 12 warmed serving bowls, ladle 2 tablespoons of morita sauce, then add 1 square of polenta and 1 slice of bacon, crumbled. Add another 2 tablespoons of sauce. Top with a baked egg.
5. Garnish each with an additional slice of bacon, a teaspoon of queso fresco, and spring onions. Serve with hot sauce on the side.
FARMesilla chef Becky Windels uses fresh produce in this dessert, but you can substitute frozen fruit and chile. Thaw them first, though.
¾ cup all-purpose gluten-free flour, plus a pinch for dusting
¼ cup gram flour (chickpea flour)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cardamom
Pinch of sea salt
¼ cup palm sugar or granulated sugar
1 tablespoon brown coconut sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon almond extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2½ tablespoons New Mexico green chile, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 large cage-free egg
¼ cup palm sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
3 tablespoons all-purpose gluten-
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cardamom
pinch of salt
2 cups pitted and sliced peaches, at room temperature
½ cup cherries, pitted and halved
1 tablespoon sanding sugar or granulated sugar
¼ cup thinly sliced toasted almonds, for garnish
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in almond extract. Pour over dry ingredients and mix with a fork to create a crumbly dough.
3. Line an 8-inch bottom-release tart pan with parchment paper. Spray vegetable oil on the pan’s sides and dust with flour.
4. Flatten dough into the prepared tart pan. Push it into the corners and up the sides using the bottom of a 1-cup metal measuring cup. Trim any excess dough and create a neat, fluted edge. Use a fork to gently prick holes into the bottom of the crust.
5. Bake tart crust at 350° for 12–15 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely, then refrigerate while making the filling.
1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and cook until it starts to brown. Remove from heat and stir in the chile. Let cool for 10 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, sugar, vanilla or almond extract, flour, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt.
3. Add the butter mixture quickly and whisk vigorously to create an airy, fluffy custard.
4. Stir peaches and cherries into custard and pour into the cooled crust. Distribute fruit evenly with a fork.
5. Sprinkle tart with sanding or granulated sugar. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes until custard is firm. Allow to cool completely before cutting.
6. Garnish with thinly sliced almonds. Serve chilled.