The chili harvest of West Texas, southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, begins in late summer and lasts through the first hard frost. You can encounter the smell of chilies roasting anywhere, with the frequency and randomness I associate with leaves burning in New England. I didn’t know this until I went to New Mexico, where I’d traveled for the Hatch Chile Festival, an event every native or long-termer politely advised me to avoid. (“Well, it’s a nice drive,” they’d say, and they were right about that.)
But I didn’t need to go to Hatch — the self-proclaimed chili capital of the world — to find these roasted chilies. At many farms, supermarkets, farmers’ markets and street corners in Las Cruces, people buy green chilies by the mesh sack — 8 pounds, or 20, or 40 — and then pay someone with a gas-powered, hand-cranked, lotto-drum-like steel basket to roast them on the spot. The smell is intoxicating, as the peppers tumble around in the roasters, their seeds popping from the intense heat. It takes just a few minutes to roast 20 pounds.
I didn’t just smell these chilies, of course; I ate them. A lot of them. I had chilies stuffed (rellenos-style), pulverized (in salsa) and chopped with pinto beans (inside burritos). All fantastic.
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