The chiles turn red in September, when they are picked and dried. (Thinkstock)

Best Indian Food 2013: Red Chile Stew with Pork

Jackleen de la Harpe
May 24, 2013

This is part four in a series on Best Indian Food 2013. Also read: Smothered Muskrat, Tail Off, Teeth Showing; Salmon Roasted Over an Alder Fire Pit; and Slow-Cooked Corn Soup.

Seeds and cattle are at the heart of Norma Naranjo’s life at the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, where she lives with her husband, Hutch. When they married, he contributed blue-corn seeds from Santa Clara Pueblo, she contributed chile seeds from Ohkay Owingeh, where she grew up, and both of them brought cattle.

Naranjo, Ohkay Owingeh Tribe, says her pueblo, like many New Mexico pueblos, celebrates Feast Days, a version of a pow wow. The Ohkay Owingeh (which means strong people), formerly known as San Juan Pueblo, celebrates Feast Day on June 24, which coincides with the June solstice and the birth of Saint John the Baptist. When the Spaniards came to the pueblos in the 1600s, they first conquered and then renamed the pueblo communities after saints as part of the effort to convert Indian people to Catholicism. For their pueblo, says Naranjo, it is a joyous time when families gather and sacred and spiritual dances are performed. Vendors bring art and jewelry to sell, and in homes all around the pueblo, people cook and share food. Naranjo cooks a red chile stew using chiles from her farm, which is made to match the memory of red chile stew that she ate growing up.

Food and farming are central to the life that Naranjo shares with her husband in northern New Mexico near the Rio Grande River, and New Mexico is famous for its chiles. The chiles that she and her husband grow are descendants of the original seeds passed down through generations. The Naranjos also farm blue and white chico corn, which they sell, and red and green chiles, which they keep for themselves. The chiles begin to grow long and green by late August, she says, and when they start to redden in September, they are picked and hung to dry. Once they are fully dried, they are ground into the deep red powder she uses for cooking.

Naranjo’s red chile stew is complex only in its taste—she cuts up pork, boils it in water, and when the meat is tender, adds boiled potatoes and the chile powder until it thickens a bit. A bit of salt might be added, but not one other spice is welcome in this stew to ensure that the taste of the medium-hot red chile is the star.

"Red chile is the number one dish in the pueblo," she says. "When people come to my home and eat red chile stew, I enjoy seeing how happy they are. I feel very proud of the fact that we still carry on that tradition. It's very good in our family and I'm happy that I can still make it."


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