If You Don’t Eat This in Albuquerque, You Haven’t Tasted New Mexico
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Posole with bread
When I first landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the cinnamon-hued adobe buildings looked as if they were being hugged by the rosy cliffs of the Sandia Mountains. To call it a landmark city is an understatement. The cacti and fluffy pampas grass of the high desert combine with Pueblo-style buildings and busy modern thoroughfares to create a distinctive landscape that reflects both ancient Indigenous history and contemporary American trends. Albuquerque is the kind of place that needs to be experienced on multiple levels at once. You need to get outside and explore the natural beauty, you need to connect with the Pueblo culture, and right in between the two you need to taste their flavors.
The ability to get in a hot air balloon was the first thing that drew me to Albuquerque. Famous for the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world's largest balloon event, the city is teeming with hot air balloon pilots who launch rides year-round. Stable wind patterns and weather conditions make Albuquerque the perfect spot for hot air ballooning, so I headed out for a sunrise flight with Rainbow Ryders.
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I climbed into the basket of a balloon splattered with the geometric symbols of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. As I soared over the Rio Grande Valley, I saw cranes and hawks soar through the sky and as we approached the river, our pilot Alfred steered the balloon down into the water and back in for a splash and dash the air .
Viewing the landscape from above helped emphasize the natural beauty of the area, and not just by balloon. As you climb through the desert skies and over canyons and forests to 10,378 feet on the Sandia Peak Tramway, it's obvious why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment.
So much of Albuquerque's culture is defined by its nature, a connection I learned in depth at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The center sits on 80 acres and is governed by the 19 New Mexico Pueblo communities. It features a museum, galleries, library, traditional garden, restaurant, and an indigenously owned Starbucks, the first Starbucks not owned by corporations. The Pueblo Indians settled the land and lived in the region for centuries under the Spanish, Mexican, and American governments.
"We want to introduce people to our culture and dispel myths," said Monique Fragua, COO of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. "We want people to know that we are alive, that we exist."
Perhaps one of the most memorable ways to experience Pueblo culture is through food. Famous for incorporating the "three sisters" of corn, beans and squash, traditional dishes use these key ingredients in a variety of ways. When I sat down to Indian Pueblo cuisine, I was immediately treated to puffy, golden ovals of Pueblo oven bread. The bread, traditionally baked in outdoor clay ovens called hornos, was dense and moist with a hint of sweetness. I gobbled it up and would have been content to eat it alone, but I waited for the posole, a corn stew that often goes with it.
The steaming bowl soon arrived, as did the scent of chilies and cumin. I dipped some bread into the thick liquid and savored the savory taste of beans and cornmeal spiked with chili spice.
"Stews and breads are typically eaten on festival days and during traditional ceremonies," Davida Becenti (Diné), chef at Pueblo Indian Kitchen, told me. “The secret of making bread is to do it with love and compassion. The main ingredients for the stew are meat, red chili and white corn grown in the field.”
As I walked past the center's garden of sprouting white, blue, and yellow corn plants, I felt more than full after taking part in the city's history and culture—and just getting a really good taste of Albuquerque.
Posole recipe by Chef Becenti
2 lbs. white corn
2 lbs. Pork, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cloves of garlic
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon. cumin
2 TBSP. dried Mexican oregano
1 pound red chillies
pinch of salt
2 TBSP. oil
Boil 3 liters of water; Remove stems and seeds from red chillies. Put the chillies in water and let them reduce for an hour. Add the pods to the blender along with 2 cups of the liquid and puree. (Reserve the remaining liquid in the saucepan.)
Add the chili puree to the saucepan with the remaining liquid, then add the white hominy. Cook on low heat for 45 minutes.
In a saucepan with 2 tablespoons oil, sauté the pork, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, and oregano for at least 5 minutes.
Add pork and spices to boiling chili puree and hominy. Simmer over low heat for 35 minutes until pork is tender, then serve.
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