n COLOR Up, we’re all about avoiding binaries. But there’s one binary that’s not a problem in New Mexico, which is the only state to have a state question: “red or green?” It’s a question you’ll be asked in every restaurant, and it refers to whether you want red chile or green chile on your enchiladas, carne adovada, or huevos rancheros. This binary is not a problem because you can’t go wrong with either red or green chile. There’s no right or wrong here, no better or worse. There’s just delicious.
When I first moved to New Mexico, I didn’t have a clue about chile. I had only been in Albuquerque a couple of months when I was greeted with a pungent, smoky, sweet smell in the neighborhood. I soon learned it was the smell of fall—of chiles roasting in front of virtually every grocery store and farmer’s market in town. So I thought I’d better figure out what this chile obsession was in my adopted state.
The first thing I had to figure out was “Hatch.” Signs everywhere advertised, “Hatch green chiles.” Did this refer to a new crop or batch of chiles? How do chiles hatch? What’s the relationship between a hatch and a batch? My husband finally got up the courage to ask a man roasting a sack of chiles outside our local Smith’s. He said, “Hatch is the town famous for green chiles—it’s where most of them are grown.” “Ah, my husband said, because we had recently moved from California: “Hatch is to chile as Napa is to wine.” “You got it,” our new friend said, with a grin, handing us a freshly roasted and piping hot sample of his wares.
So since then, we make sure to get our bushel of roasted chiles every fall. We bring them home, let them cool, and then peel and freeze them, ready to use in virtually everything. At least, that’s what a good New Mexican does—put chiles in and pour them over everything.
And if you don’t want to have to choose between red chiles and green ones, you can get out of the binary yet another way. Just say “Christmas.” That means you want some red and some green on your enchiladas. So eat your chiles however you want and get out of the binary however you can!