Red Chile Sauce

For centuries, farmers in Chimayó have grown a particular “landrace” of chile, different from other versions just a valley over, and a good bit different in appearance from the hybridized large chiles from southern New Mexico. The true Chimayó pods grown historically in the area are small and wrinkly and not easily roasted and peeled in their green state. The lean soil and cool nights of the area keep the chiles from growing to a hefty size, but when left to mature to red, the local pods develop an incomparable sweetness and mellowness. Coupled with a small crop, these characteristics make red Chimayó chiles pricier and more sought after than chiles from anywhere else. This meatless version of the red sauce is especially popular at Rancho de Chimayó during Lent.

¾ cup ground dried New Mexican red chile, preferably Chimayó (available from
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon garlic salt, or more to taste
4 cups vegetable broth, preferably, or water
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in an additional 2 tablespoons water

Makes approximately 4 cups

Combine chile, onion, and garlic salt in a large, heavy saucepan. Slowly add broth, mixing carefully. Break up any lumps of chile. Cook mixture over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cornstarch mixture and cook about 5 minutes more. Completed sauce should be reduced by about one-quarter, coat a spoon thickly, and no longer taste of raw cornstarch. Add more garlic salt if you wish. Serve sauce warm with tortas, enchiladas, burritos, or other dishes.

Ahead-of-time note: Red chile sauce keeps for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. It also freezes well.

Many cultures have some variation of bread pudding. The traditional recipes in northern New Mexico usually lack eggs and contain cheese. Caramelized sugar adds depth of flavor.

Butter for the baking dish
8 slices white sandwich bread
½ cup sugar
2½ cups water
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (approximately 4 ounces) grated mild Cheddar cheese
½ cup dark raisins
½ cup chopped pecans or piñon nuts
½ cup mini-marshmallows, optional

Makes 6 servings

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Butter a shallow medium-sized baking dish and set aside. Tear bread into bite-sized pieces and spread on a baking sheet. Toast bread in oven for 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until dry and slightly browned. Cool on baking sheet.

Pour sugar into a heavy saucepan several quarts in size. Cook over low heat, watching carefully as sugar melts into a golden brown caramel syrup. There is no need to stir unless sugar is melting unevenly. When syrup turns a rich medium brown, immediately pour in warm water. Watch out for steam. Caramel will harden but keep stirring and it will melt shortly. Add brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and cinnamon, and bring back to a boil. Simmer over medium heat until mixture has cooked down by about one-fourth, about 10 minutes. Set liquid aside to cool.

Layer toast pieces, cheese, raisins, pecans, and optional mini-marshmallows, repeating until all ingredients are used. Slowly ladle reserved syrup over bread, soaking every piece. Gently press bread into syrup. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and capirotada has a creamy, almost custard-like consistency. Serve warm.

Ahead-of-time note: Capirotada can be assembled up to 6 hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring the dish back to room temperature before proceeding with baking.

Variation: Chimayó residents often add some of their noted apples to capirotada. Pare one of your favorite apples, slice into small chunks, sauté lightly in a tablespoon of butter, and add to the layers of bread and other ingredients.