HOURS BEFORE THE FIRST STUDENTS ARRIVE, Hutch Naranjo fires up his handcrafted horno while, inside the house, his wife, Norma, dons a Virgin of Guadalupe apron and whips together some classroom basics: a pot of beans with chicos, coffee, and a table set with the fixings for prune and apricot empanadas. For them, it might be just another day of teaching people how to cook Pueblo style, but for students of the Feasting Place, each class delivers a smorgasbord of New Mexico history, Native culture, cooking know-how, and a great meal.
The Naranjos can likely lay claim to being the only pueblo–based cooking school in the nation. Norma grew up in Ohkay Owingeh, Hutch in nearby Santa Clara. They inherited the onetime HUD house from her mother and spent years adding on here, adding on there, even as the kids moved out, and friends and family asked, “Why do you need so much room? It’s just the two of you.” “When Santa Clara has a feast day,” Norma says, “I go and help, and when we have a feast day, they come help me. It’s all family. That’s why I had to make my house bigger. When you come on feast day? This house is small.”
Handy thing, then, that all the space on the edge of Ohkay Owingeh with a view of the Truchas Peaks also accommodates a school about feast-day cooking that has thrived since its accidental creation 18 years ago. After cooking for a friend’s wedding, Norma fielded dozens of questions about how to cook. She saw an entrepreneurial opportunity, got some professional advice, spread the word, and, a year later, won a statewide business award. Now she caters events as large as Indian Market galas, runs the school, and knows so many people that she sees a stream of them pour through the house on Ohkay Owingeh’s feast days. Typically, she says, vats of traditional dishes join modern-day favorites in a comical mix of enchiladas, green chile stew, macaroni and cheese, and fried rice. All day long, visitors fill plates between stops at the church service, dances, and crafts markets. How do you prep so much food so fast? That’s what Norma teaches for $100 a person, one class at a time.
“A lot of people all over the world have no idea that we exist here in New Mexico,” she says. “Or they think Native people are all the same—Navajo, Sioux, Pueblo. We’re very different, and in the Southwest, as Pueblo people, we have a lot of history in terms of the foods we eat, how we grow it, and how we make it.”
I get there early and am already grilling Norma about the day’s lesson plan when the other students arrive—a retired couple from Albuquerque and another couple from Portland, Oregon. We’re five strangers—seven, if you count Norma and Hutch—about to learn who can roll the thinnest dough, mix up the best pico de gallo, and most expertly wield the wooden paddle that guides food into the horno.
First things first, Norma says: “It’s OR-no. You don’t pronounce the h.” And if you don’t see one of the domed adobe ovens in someone’s backyard, you probably aren’t at a pueblo home. Hutch has built two, because feast days demand that much cooking. As he carries a platter of lamb chops outside to be seared, Norma loses every single student from the dining room. Trailing behind him, we devolve into our primal selves, gazing at the glory of fire and meat.
“Let’s get class started,” Norma says, pulling us back inside. She scoops flour from one bowl, puts it into another, mixes in shortening, adds cold water with a few drops of vinegar (“I don’t really measure; I do it by feel”), and begins kneading her empanada dough. Still strangers, we hang back in shyness, but soon everyone has a rolling pin, wads of dough, and dollops of filling. (The other women’s turn out great. Mine look like half-moons that a cat stepped on.) In the kitchen, the guys choose knives for chopping pico de gallo and calabacitas ingredients. Throughout, Norma drops tidbits about the Moorish-Spanish origins of apples, beef, and wheat flour. She talks about Ohkay Owingeh’s traditional garbanzo-bean stew and why prune empanadas became popular. “Those were fruits that grew wild on our ditch banks, so we used them.”
She and Hutch run a few cattle at Santa Clara and plant squash, corn, and chile that often show up on their classroom plates. Each spring, Norma gathers chimaja, a parsley relative that grows wild in northern New Mexico, and dries it for a hyper-local seasoning.
After an hour of prep, cooking time blazes past. A parade of dishes slide into and out of the horno. We marvel at how Hutch continually feeds the fire and how Norma tests it for the final, more delicate task of baking. Hutch sweeps the coals out to ease the heat, and Norma rips a page from a newspaper, setting it inside the oven for five seconds. It comes out mocha brown. “A little too hot,” she says. Hutch swishes the interior with a damp mop. She tries again. And again. Finally, a page emerges the color of just-baked bread, indicating a 400° oven ready to toast up empanadas.
Once those are completed, we sit for our a feast, starting with Hutch’s Tewa-language prayer. He asks for a blessing on all and wishes that we have safe travels and good lives. Then something magical happens. The simple ingredients of the pico de gallo rise into a flavor far greater than their parts. The lamb chops blend smoke and springtime. Empanada crusts crumble against sweet fillings. As our conversation mutes into blissful chewing, Norma takes the lead. She tells us that famous people have come to her classes—novelist Isabel Allende, senator Tom Udall, and others who insisted she sign confidentiality agreements. Recently, a new web show, Scraps, produced by Katie Couric, taped an episode here. Students have hailed from Africa, Australia, Thailand, and Spain. The Naranjos share their knowledge widely, but for both of them, the purpose sits squarely at home.
“Traditions bring family and community together,” she says. “We have survived with what our ancestors taught us. We keep the heirloom seeds for our corn and chile. We don’t want to lose that. It’s not just the sustainability of these things; it’s the sustainability of memories—how we grew up and how we pass it on to our children and their children.”
On this day, she passes on the few empanadas that outlasted our appetites, along with the memories we cooked up together.
Three New Mexico chefs who offer do-it-yourself cooking classes share some of their students’ favorite recipes. Norma and Hutch Naranjo offer classes by appointment and can tailor them to individual interests. This stew is one of the ways Norma manages the harvest’s bounty, by adding potatoes and broth to the ingredients of calabacitas for a main dish.
Norma Naranjo, The Feasting Place
312 NM 68, Española; (505) 753-6767; thefeastingplace.com
Norma’s Green Chile Stew
- 2 scallop (or patty-pan) squashes, sliced
- 2 yellow squashes, sliced
- 2 zucchini, sliced
- 2 cups whole kernel corn (or 3 fresh ears of corn)
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups thin-skinned potatoes, cubed
- 5–6 cups broth (or water) Green chile, roasted and chopped, to taste
- Sauté squash and corn in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add onion and garlic to cook, along with the green chile.
- Cook potatoes in a pot of simmering water until medium soft. (The potatoes will continue to cook when you add them to the rest of the vegetables.)
- Mix all ingredients in the pot, add salt to taste, and bring to a simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add green chile and serve.
- 6 fresh tomatoes
- 1 medium red onion
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1/2 cup chopped green chile
- 1 small avocado
- Cut tomatoes into small cubes. Chop onion, cilantro, and avocado.
- Mix chopped green chile to the other ingredients. Add salt to taste and drizzle with a good olive oil.
- Serve with chips or crostini made with horno bread (available at pueblo farm stands), sliced and toasted.
Margaret Campos, Comida de Campos
1101 NM 68, Embudo; (505) 852-0017; email@example.com
From her farm in the verdant Río Grande Valley between Santa Fe and Taos, Margaret Campos offers June–October classes to preregistered groups. (Families often pick this as a reunion activity.) Each session begins with foraging in the fields. A spacious outdoor kitchen combines cooking with a view of towering cottonwoods and sandstone cliffs. “I learned at my grandma’s side,” Campos says, “watching, waiting for the first taste, waking to a warm tortilla. Her cooking was love on a spoon.” Freshly plucked vegetables star in her classes, with horno cooking a strong second. These vegetarian quesadillas can be a dinner appetizer or a lunch entrée. “It’s a take on a standard my grandmother made with quelites—wild spinach or lamb’s quarters. Later in her life, as we started adding more greens in the garden, she experimented with mustard greens, arugula, or my favorite, beet greens. I like the combination of the vegetables and provolone with a side of salsa, but any cheese works, and it’s wonderful with green chile, as well.”
Not My Grandma’s Quesadillas
- 2 pounds mixed herbs and vegetables (e.g., carrots, onions, garlic, beet greens, broccoli or cauliflower, and cilantro)
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste (from 6–8 cloves)
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
- 1/3 cup water
- 6 flour tortillas
- 1/3 cup grated provolone, queso blanco, Monterey Jack, or cheddar cheese
- Rinse vegetables. Chop onions, slice carrots, shred beet greens, and break up broccoli or cauliflower into approximately 1-inch bits.
- Over medium heat, heat oil in skillet and sauté vegetables until slightly softened. Add garlic paste. When all oil is absorbed, add water and cover. Steam until vegetables are desired consistency. Add salt.
- Spread butter on one side of tortilla and place on heated griddle. Add vegetables and cheese. Fold over and brown slightly on both sides.
Johnny Vee, Las Cosas Cooking School and Kitchen Kraft
181 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe; (505) 988-3394; lascosascooking.com; and 980 N. Telshor Blvd., Las Cruces; (575) 525-8466; kitchenkrafthome.com
Growing up in Rochester, New York, on a fairly bland diet left chef and cookbook author John Vollertsen (aka Johnny Vee) wondering what might taste better. From Sydney, Australia, and then to New Mexico, he found out. After establishing a chain of Southwestern-themed restaurants Down Under, he moved to Santa Fe and, in 1998, opened the Las Cosas Cooking School in DeVargas Center. More recently, he’s taken his show on the road to the Kitchen Kraft shop in Las Cruces. His courses feature hands-on cooking of all major cuisines, but 60 percent of his students come for the New Mexico fare. “It is such a delight to introduce both tourists and locals to our unique cookery and all the ingredients that flavor it—especially chiles, both fresh and dried. With every bite of carne adovada, green chile stew, sopaipillas, and all the other scrumptious dishes we prepare, Rochester seems a million miles away.” Some of that chile makes its way into his ice cream recipe, a sweet finale to a home-cooked New Mexico feast.
Brown Sugar Vanilla Ice Cream with Red Chile Caramel Swirl
Makes 1 pints
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 cup red chile caramel sauce (see recipe; reserve the rest for another use)
- Toasted pine nuts
- Place cream and half-and-half in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat.
- Stir cup sugar and vanilla extract into cream. Whisk remaining sugar and yolks in a medium bowl until lemony yellow. Add cup of warm cream to yolks and whisk to combine. Add yolk mixture back into cream and return to heat. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon.
- Remove from heat immediately and pour into a bowl. Cover and chill until very cold.
- Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Once ice cream has reached appropriate texture, spread it onto a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish, cover, and freeze. Pour cooled caramel sauce over ice cream. Using a large ice cream scoop, make long scoops into the ice cream, allowing the caramel to curl into the mixture. Place scoops in a freezer container. Freeze. Serve topped with toasted pine nuts.
Red Chile Caramel Sauce
Makes 1 cups
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons hot ground New Mexico red chile (or to taste)
- Place sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and stir to moisten sugar. Bring to a boil, then cook until mixture reaches a deep golden brown color, about 10 minutes. Use a pastry brush dipped in cold water to keep the sides of the pan free of crystallized sugar.
- Remove from heat and carefully stir in cream. Use a long-handled wooden spoon, as mixture will bubble up.
- Return to medium heat and cook until caramel becomes smooth. Stir in salt. Allow to cool, stir in chile, cover, and refrigerate for up to two weeks.