Spiced Butternut Squash & Bean Soup

‘Tis the season for multi-tasking madness! Yes, it’s the time of year to over extend yourself and your credit card. Commit to far too much. Eat and drink yourself silly. Send holiday greetings to friends you haven’t seen or spoken to since you sent them a card last year. Ask yourself why stores insist on playing Christmas music months in advance. Buy your nearest and dearest something they’ll dislike and discard. Then collapse and promise you’ll never do this again.

Or you could turn your phone onto silent. Channel your inner Scrooge. No Christmas cards. No Christmas sweaters. Scowl at those cute carollers who come to your door. Then slip into the kitchen and make yourself a restorative pot of soup.

Accompany said soup with a hefty wedge of bread, some really good butter and a good book. The book, I might add is to read, not eat. Although if you enjoy reading you’re a voracious reader who devours books so maybe you do ‘eat’ them up. I digress…Perhaps something to listen to (not Mariah Carey singing ‘All I Want for Christmas’ for heavens sake). Something classy like Elvis.

Breathe deep and sigh. Do feel smug if this feels appropriate. For soup, you’re spoiled for choice. At our Scrooge Grotto this year, we’ll be serving a Spiced Butternut Squash & Bean Soup. It’s packed full of health-giving goodness (yawn) and is easy to make. Do share with someone if you must or store the rest in the freezer for a cold winter’s day.

Spiced Butternut Squash & Bean Soup

Serves 4

1 butternut Squash, around 1.5-2 lbs.

14 oz. can of beans (garbanzo, black eyed peas, you get the idea)

A hefty handful of cavolo nero (black cabbage), kale or spinach

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 New Mexico red chile pod

1 1/2 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. ancho chile powder

1/2 tsp. cumin

Heat the oil in a medium-large saucepan over low heat. Saute the onion slowly until soft and translucent. Don’t rush this step folks. While the onion is cooking, peel the squash, slice in half, remove the seeds (you can save them to roast if you’re feeling energetic) and chop into 1/2″ dice.

Add the garlic to the softened onion, saute for another minute then add the spices, including the chile pod. Stir to coat and cook for a minute or two to bring out the flavours of the spices. Add the diced butternut squash and stir to coat. Cook for a few minutes then add the stock. Increase the heat to medium (it should be at a low simmer). Cook until the squash is tender — this won’t take long, perhaps 15 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, wash your greens. If using kale or cavolo nero, strip the leaves from the woody stems and chop. If using spinach, take a break, check your Instagram ‘likes’ and then get back to work.

When the squash is cooked, drain and rinse the beans, add them to the soup along with the greens. Stir, taste and add salt and more chile if desired. Remove the chile pod and serve.

Tomato Salad with Cilantro Pesto

I never met a tomato I didn’t like. Scratch that. I never met a vine-ripened tomato I didn’t like. Now don’t start rolling your eyes and muttering under your breath. I can hear you, you know and no, I’m not being an elitist snob.

Okay, maybe I am, but so what? Sometimes in life there is a right way to do something and a wrong way. And trust me folks, picking a tomato when it’s green, transporting it halfway around the world and then popping it in the refrigerator is wrong. W-R-O-N-G.

Whoever thought that tomatoes need to be refrigerated anyway? The refrigerator is for bottles of strange chutneys and sauces that you use once and then forget about for 2-3 years. It’s for leftovers that find their way to the very back of the shelf where they gestate until they’re so covered with fuzzy mould that you can’t tell if they were animal, vegetable or mineral. The fridge is not, however, for tomatoes.

Refrigerating tomatoes kills the flavor so don’t do it. Got it?

Tomatoes should smell of sun (yes, I know that technically you can’t smell sun, but bear with me). They should be warm to the touch, firm yet yielding and above all, juicy. Place thick slices between two pieces of white bread that have been liberally slathered with mayonnaise. And don’t forget to generously season them with salt and pepper. Eat and enjoy life as the tomato juices run down you chin.

Yes, it’s messy. Yes, you look like a slob. Yes, you trash that brand new white shirt you bought (what were you thinking of buying a white shirt for heaven’s sake?). But it’s worth it. Just don’t let those precious tomatoes anywhere near the fridge. Promise?

Toasting nuts is not the time to check your emails or put a load of laundry in. Focus, people, focus.

And if you’d like something a smidge more sophisticated, then try our tomato salad recipe.

Tomato Salad with Cilantro Pesto

Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs tomatoes

Small bunch of cilantro, leaves and stems washed and roughly chopped

2 heaping Tbsp pine nuts, plus more for garnishing

1 small clove of garlic, minced

3 oz olive oil

1/8-1/4 tsp Hatch green chile powder

Salt

Chile pequin, to garnish

Place the pine nuts in a small saucepan and toast them for a few minutes over medium heat until nicely browned (Browned people, not burnt. There is a difference). Remove from the pan and allow the pine nuts to cool. Place the cilantro in the bowl of a small food processor along with the minced garlic, Hatch green chile powder, pine nuts and two tablespoons of the olive oil. Blitz until it forms a rough paste. Season with salt and add more chile powder if it needs more heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil if the mixture feels too thick — you should be able to drizzle it over your tomatoes.

Slice your non-refrigerated tomatoes and place them on a plate. Drizzle over the pesto and garnish with more pine nuts and some Chile pequin. Serve and enjoy.

Even better? Add a baguette so you can soak up all those juices!

Green chile potato salad

Whoever said the potato is humble? There is nothing humble about the noble spud. Yes, it grows quietly underground, doing it’s tuber-thing. It doesn’t call attention to itself but does that make it humble? Nay, gentle reader. On the contrary. Picture a tiny new potato, boiled gently, sliced in half, a bit of the flesh spooned out and replaced with a dollop of black caviar and a lick of sour cream. Call that humble?

Or try vichyssoise. That’s vihsh–ee–SWAHZ, darling. The rich, creamy, potato and leek soup that’s served cold, and garnished with a fluttering of chopped chives. You say a bowl of pureed onions and potatoes? I say you’re a philistine.

The beauty of potatoes is that they can go all ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ one moment and down home comfort food the next. They are culinary chameleons. As it’s the Fourth of July (cue fireworks, burned burgers and dodgy hotdogs), we thought a green chile potato salad was in order. We’ve used small, new red potatoes, celery including the leaves, if you can find them, and shallots instead of onions.

Yes, slightly pretentious but we can live with that. What we can’t abide is anything humble, except for home of course.

If you can find celery with the leaves, don’t toss them. Finely chop the leaves and add to your potato salad.

Serves 5-6 as a side dish

1.25 lbs. potatoes, preferably new red potatoes but we won’t quibble

1 stalk of celery, diced, plus chopped celery leaves if you’ve got them

1 small banana shallot, finely minced

2 Tbsp mayonnaise

1/2 – 1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp Hatch green chile powder, or more to taste

Salt

Rinse the potatoes, slice them in half and put them in a pan with water. Generously salt the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook until the potatoes are just tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the diced celery, celery leaves if you have them, minced shallot, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, olive oil and the Hatch green chile powder — basically the rest of the ingredient list Einstein — in a bowl. Combine. Drain the potatoes and while hot, add to the bowl. Give a firm but gentle stir (like you’re dealing with a slightly over excited five year old). Serve as is or at room temperature.

Call that humble?

Habanero berries with lime & mint

A siesta is a mighty fine thing. Some might think it’s a luxury but here at Chile Trail HQ, we think it’s a necessity, especially in the summer. Think about it — you’ve had lunch and it’s now the hottest part of the day. What are you going to do — run a 10k? Of course not. Any sensible person would put their feet up and take a nap.

A super speedy summer dessert or post-nap snack

It doesn’t have to be long but no peaking at your phone or computer. No quick notes on your ever lengthening to-do list. Feet up and eyes closed. That’s an order. Then when you wake up (it doesn’t have to be long — 15 or 20 minutes can do the trick), you’re rested and rejuvenated. Some people might even say you look 10 years younger, but that’s pushing it.

You stretch, smile and feel like a light snack is in order. Might we suggest berries macerated in a sugar syrup with lime, mint and habanero chile? Of course we can. Make it ahead of time, pop it in the fridge and serve it with a large spoonful of COYO, coconut yogurt. Suddenly you’re feeling super human, able to leap tall buildings in a singe bound.

Is it the nap or the berries? We’ll leave you to decide.

Serves 4

1 lb. mixed berries (rasp, black, straw)

1/4 tsp habanero chile powder

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

Zest & juice of one lime

A sprig of mint plus more leaves to garnish

COYO coconut milk yogurt

Wash the berries and slice the strawberries in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Put the chile, sugar, water, lime juice and zest, and the sprig of mint in a small saucepan. Place on the stove and heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Strain and pour over the berries. Allow to macerate for half an hour or so before serving with a large dollop of COYO and some chopped mint leaves.

The creaminess of COYO coconut yogurt helps to temper the fieriness of the habanero. Trust us.

Grilled asparagus with mozzarella and red chile-honey dressing

Sharing is seriously overrated. Sure, it looks good on paper. It’s the ‘right’ thing to do. And be honest, how many times have you told your kids to share the toys/computer game/remote control and ‘play nicely’? 

But sometimes it’s a whole lot more fun to have a party where only three invitations go out: me, myself, and I. No sharing that stellar bottle of wine. No fear that when you offer a guest first dibs from your box of chocolates that they’ll end up with your favorite dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt, while you get stuck with the weird one with the pink filling that tastes like the perfume your Granny used to wear. 

There is no better argument for not sharing than a bunch of asparagus, especially if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some thick, fat stalks. Sure, you could divide them in half and give your dining companion three or even four, if you’re feeling like a martyr. But how much better to hog them for yourself. Add a ball of fresh mozzarella, a chile-honey dressing and go for it.

No sharing. No ‘Honestly, you have the last one. I couldn’t eat another bite.’ No holier than thou moment. And when you’re done, crack open that box of chocolates. Go on – you know you want to. 

Serves one (or two if you’re feeling friendly)

One bunch of asparagus – about 6 fat spears

One ball of mozzarella – buffalo or burrata if you won the lottery

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil + extra for grilling the asparagus

1 – 1 ½ Tbsp. rice wine vinegar

1 tsp runny honey

¼ – ½ tsp Chile de arbol – Cayenne powder

¼ tsp sea salt

Chile caribe to garnish 

Note: some folks like to snap off the end of their asparagus but we think you lose too much. Instead, trim the end and then take a vegetable peeler and shave off some of the outer woody bit. It will be nice and tender. Promise. 

Add a couple of inches of water to a frying pan that is large enough to hold the asparagus in a single layer. Bring the water to a boil, add a generous spoonful of salt and the asparagus. Cover and steam for 2 to 3 minutes or until you can insert a knife easily into the base of the stalk. Gently place the asparagus into a wide colander and rinse with ice cold water to cool them down. Set the asparagus on some paper towels to dry them off.

Heat your grill to medium-hot. (You can also do this inside on a grill pan if the weather isn’t cooperating.) While the grill is heating up, make the dressing. Whisk together the oil, rice wine vinegar, honey, chile and salt. Taste and add more chile and/or salt as needed. 

Brush the asparagus with some oil and place on the hot grill. Turn the spears about every thirty seconds to get nice grill marks all around the spears. Remove from the grill. Place the mozzarella on a plate, place the spears around it, and drizzle over the dressing. Sprinkle with some chile caribe. 

Christmas Caesar Salad

In New Mexico, we don’t care where you live. We don’t care what you do for a living. And we definitely don’t care what you got up to last weekend when you said you were ‘cleaning the garage’. 

What do we care about? It’s simple. One question and one question only is on the lips of any self-respecting New Mexican: red or green? All we care about is chile. We eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Folks round here are divided into two camps – those who favor red chile and those who swear by green. 

Scratch that – three camps. There are some chile lovers who simply can’t make up their minds. They love them both so that’s what we give them – red and green, or as we like to call it, Christmas.

For the Christmas lovers out there, we’ve got a Christmas Caesar salad. There is green chile in the salad dressing and red chile on the crispy croutons. And as if that’s not enough, we use two different red chiles. Over the top? Yep, so sue us. Cayenne or chile de arbol, gives heat, while New Mexico or chile molido adds a kinder, gentler warmth. 

It’s salad so it’s good for you so go ahead and look smug, we don’t mind. Add some whole anchovies and halved hard boiled egg if you like and here’s a secret – we pick up the leaves and eat them with our fingers. Forget cutlery. We’re heathens but you know you love us. 

Bon appetit!

Serves 2 as a lunch salad

For the dressing:

½ tsp Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 ½ tsp whipping cream

¼- ½ tsp Green Jalapeño Chile Powder

For the salad:

1 large head of baby Romaine, about 8 oz., washed and dried

8-large shavings of parmesan (you can do this with a vegetable peeler)

Anchovy fillets in oil, optional

Hard boiled eggs, optional

For the croutons:

6 slices of baguette

2-2 ½ Tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced to a pulp

New Mexico Red Chile/Chile Molido powder

Chile de Arbol/Cayenne chile powder

Combine all of the ingredients for the salad dressing. Whisk them like your life depended on it. Taste, season with salt, add some more chile – you know the drill. Set the dressing aside.

To make the croutons, mix the bashed garlic with the olive oil and brush over the baguette slices. Sprinkle each slice with a bit of chile de arbol and chile molido. Place the slices on a baking pan and broil for a minute or two until crisp. 

While the bread is in the oven, make haste. Divide the leaves between two plates and do the same with the shaved parmesan. Add the halved hard boiled eggs and whole anchovies, if using. 

Remove the pan from the oven, divide the slices between the two plates and drizzle over the dressing. Eat and be careful not to drip any dressing on that new linen shirt. Honestly, you can dress ‘em up but you can’t take ‘em out.

Zucchini ribbons with chile, pine nuts & ricotta

At the Chile Trail, we live for danger. Don’t believe us? Try this on for size. We’ve been known to let the gas tank get down to a quarter full before filling it up again. Yep, we know – madness. Once we waited to pack for holiday a whole week before we left. Crazy? You got it. 

So when someone gave us a mandoline for Christmas we saw danger written all over it. For the uninitiated, a mandoline is a kitchen utensil with a flat frame and adjustable blades for slicing vegetables. The danger? Use it without the hand guard and you’ll find that it’s good for creating wafer thin slices of finger too.  

Zucchini ribbons sliced on the mandoline.

How could we resist? Soon we were slicing everything that didn’t move from carrots to fennel to apples and pears. We thought about it using it on butter but realized that was just silly. This I’m-a-fancy-pants-chef-like-person-dish is the result of our borderline obsession with the mandoline.

If you don’t have a mandoline, you could use a super sharp knife or even try a vegetable peeler. Or you could stop being such a cheap so-and-so and buy one. They’re – as they say in England – cheap as chips. And then you too can take a walk on the wild side.   

Ricotta is optional but you know you love it.

Serves 4

1.5 lb. zucchini – green, yellow, whatever

¼- ½ tsp. chile pequin

1 large clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

3 Tbsp. pine nuts, lightly toasted

2-3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 lemon

Ricotta cheese (optional)

Wash the zucchini and give the stem end a light trim. Slice on the mandoline to create long ribbons. Or use a super sharp knife or vegetable peeler.

Place a deep frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When it’s warmed, add the chile pequin. The chile should sizzle and spit. Don’t be deterred – remember, we live for danger. Add the garlic, give it a quick stir and then immediately add the zucchini (if you’re busy texting your buddy you’ll find that you’ve burned your garlic). 

Season with salt and stir fry for a few minutes. The zucchini should relax but you don’t want it limp. Remove from the heat and stir in half of the pine nuts. Place the zucchini on a platter. Finely grate the lemon over the zucchini. Slice the lemon in half and give the veg a few generous squeezes of lemon juice. Sprinkle the remaining pine nuts over the top and add another hit of chile pequin and generous dollops of ricotta cheese, if you’re using.

Sit down and eat. You deserve it. You’ve faced danger and come out the other side.  

Don’t forget to add more chile. Always more chile.

Chile-spiced black eyed peas with sweet potatoes

Well, this is it. Another year is gone (good riddance 2020) and a long winter stretches ahead of us. While January is technically only 31 days, we figure those are dog days so it’s actually 217 days in total. Makes sense doesn’t it?

If your birthday is in January, apologies for disrespecting your month but be honest – wouldn’t you rather a summer birthday? But survive we will, each in our own way. Perhaps you’ve dusted off the backgammon set or taken up stamp collecting or knitting. Some of you may make like a bear and try to sleep your way through the month (just don’t forget your zoom call with the boss on Thursday morning…). 

Needs must, as my Granny used to say. But then again, no one ever really listened to her, did they? Basically, do what you need to do to make it through the month. By all means, take up a new language or simply try to remember your first one – we’re flexible.

And cook something…something warm and spicy and simple to fix. Take a bowl with you to you man/bear cave for a well-deserved nap and a long winter snooze.  

Serves 6

2 cups dried black eyed peas, rinsed

1 dried New Mexico red chile

1 red onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. ancho chile powder

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

Salt

1 ½ Tbsp. olive oil

Juice of one lime

To garnish (optional):

Chile pequin

Chopped cilantro

Additional lime wedges

Place the beans in a pot and cover with water by several inches. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add in the dried red chile, cover and let sit for one hour. Place back on the heat and return to the boil. Reduce and simmer until tender. 

While the beans are cooking, heat 1 ½ tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and cook slowly until soft and translucent. Add in the garlic and the ancho chile powder and cook for another minute before adding in the diced sweet potato. Cook for another 10-15 minutes until the sweet potato is cooked but still firm. Drain the beans, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add the beans to the sautéed vegetables, plus a ladleful of the cooking liquid. Taste and add salt as needed. Cook gently until the liquid is absorbed.

Remove from the heat and stir in lime juice, chopped cilantro, a generous sprinkle of the chile pequin and lime wedges (if using). Any leftovers make the start of a smashing soup.

All that jazz chile cornbread

You’ve got to love a minimalist – that individual who honestly thinks that less is more. They love paring down their possessions to one set of underwear, some black pants and a white t-shirt. They talk about ‘freedom’ from possessions and how liberating it all is.

Yawn. 

And then there are the rest of us who feel that more is well, more. We like a Christmas tree that’s heaving with decorations. Stacks of books that double as side tables. Kitchen drawers crammed full of obscure but potentially useful gadgets. And disco balls. We really love disco balls. 

And when it comes to cooking we’re not shy of an ingredient or ten. Take our green chile blue cornbread mix. It is the bee’s knees on its own. It’s so good that all you need to add is water or milk and some eggs and you’re done. But, if you’re in a OTT mood, it’s just the ticket too. We like to add corn, semi-dried tomatoes, and crumbled goat’s cheese. You could toss in some chopped green onions, toasted pecans or pine nuts, and chopped cilantro too. 

The minimalist might roll their eyes but who cares. Go big or go home. 

1 x 9.84 oz package of Green chile blue cornbread mix

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¾ cup of buttermilk or milk

6 oz. corn kernels, about 1 cup

1 oz., scant ½ cup semi-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 oz. soft goat’s cheese, crumbled

Butter

Preheat the oven to 425°F

Heat a 9.5” cast iron frying pan in the preheated oven for 5 or 10 minutes. While it’s heating, combine the cornbread mix with the eggs, corn, semi-dried tomatoes and cheese in a mixing bowl. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes or so to let the flavors marry.

Add a tablespoon or two of butter to the hot pan, return to the oven to melt the butter – this will only take a minute or two. Remove the pan from the oven, pour in the cornbread mixture – the butter will spit and sputter (this is a good thing). Return to the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean – about 15-25 minutes. 

Serve warm with butter. Any leftovers make a dandy stuffing. 

Charred Chile-Nut Brussels Sprouts

Spare a thought for Linus Urbanec, who holds the coveted title of most Brussels sprouts eaten in one minute. How many, you ask? Thirty-one sprouts. And before you say, ‘I could do that’, don’t. Just don’t. Urbanec had to spear each sprout with a toothpick, eat and swallow before moving swiftly on to the next. Can you imagine the internal reverb after eating over 30 sprouts in a minute? Ouch. On second thought, forget Urbanec – spare a kind thought for his friends and family.

(Word has it that a truck driver named Wayne Sherlock, topped this record in 2019, by two more sprouts for a total of 33. That might seem like a narrow victory but in life, every sprout counts.) 

Why our collective obsession with eating contest of any sort, where we watch and wonder if the contestant will swallow or spew? And why Brussels sprouts in particular? It’s pretty simple: when it comes sprouts, we hate them, so it’s fun to see someone suffer. Brussels sprouts are reviled, loathed, shunned, demonized and detested. And that’s just by folks who tolerate them once a year at Thanksgiving.

But it’s not fair. It’s criminal. Brussels sprouts are low in calories, a source of protein, and contain loads of Vitamin K and C plus Vitamin A, folate and manganese.  We’re talking super food here folks. And if they sometimes taste like boiled tennis shoes dressed with a jot of eau-de-sulphur, it’s hardly their fault. Far too often they’re overcooked into slimy submission. 

Toasting the seeds, nuts and chile brings out the flavor!

But give them a quick blanch in boiling water, then roast them and you’re golden. Top with some nuts, seeds and chile and you’re in love. And suddenly, you find yourself googling ‘Brussels sprout eating competition’. I mean, how difficult can it be to each 34 sprouts in a minute? Hold on, don’t answer that.

Blanch the Brussels sprouts for a few minutes then finish them off in a hot oven.

Serves 4 or 1 if you happen to be Linus Urbanec or Wayne Sherlock

1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 Tbsp. olive oil

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup hazelnuts

New Mexico Red chile pod

½ tsp ground turmeric

Zest of half a lime

Salt

To garnish (optional)

Cilantro leaves

Sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 425°F

Place the pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts in a small frying pan. Break up the dried chile, discard the stem and add to the seeds and nuts. Place over medium heat and toast the mixture for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool. When cool, place in a blender with the turmeric and half a teaspoon of salt and the lime zest. Blitz until the mixture is the consistency of rough breadcrumbs.  

Trim the Brussels sprouts and slice them in half. Blanch them in salted boiling water for about 3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Pat them dry with a paper towel, place in a roasting pan, coat with the olive oil and season generously with salt. Place in the pre-heated oven and roast for around 15-20 minutes or until nicely charred on all sides.

Place the charred Brussels sprouts in a serving dish, generously top with some of the chile-nut mixture and top with an extra drizzle of olive oil, if you like. Add the cilantro leaves and sesame seeds, if using, and serve warm.