By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — On Sunday, around 11 a.m., Robert Estrada and his family and friends will again gather at the Whole Enchilada Festival to make the world’s largest enchilada.
It will be the 27th time, cooking up the humungous treat for Estrada, whose achievement was officially certified in 2000 by “The Guinness Book of Records.”
His behemoth main course for the masses even inspired a side dish. This year, staffers from the produce department at Mountain View Market announced they would attempt to build the world's largest organic salad, a 500-pound tribute to green and healthy living.
Ah, fiesta food. Nothing expresses the unique creativity of Las Cruces style quite as eloquently as our festival cuisine. And giant enchiladas are just the beginning.
We’re always adding new and exciting multicultural entries to the mix. At this year’s Franciscan Festival of the Arts at Holy Cross Retreat, for instance, the Mesilla Valley Serra Club offered Polish sausage and sauerkraut burritos. Christmas cheeseburgers are pretty standard at many area fiestas. For newcomers, “Christmas” refers to a mixture of our favorite chiles. Our official New Mexico state question is, and I’m not making this up, “Red or green?” The answer, for those of us who like both red and green peppers and/or the sauces and salsa they inspire, is “Christmas.”
Corn also comes in Technicolor food forms in the Land of Enchantment. In addition to the standard sweet yellow stuff, roasted on the cob (great with lime-chile butter), New Mexico corn comes in red, white and blue and in cooked forms that range from tacos, enchiladas and burritos to popcorn. I once encountered an enterprising soul who tried to come up with natural patriotic popcorn, but the best he managed was a muddled mix of white and off-white kernels that were slightly blue-grayish and dingy pinkish-yellow. Maybe there has been progress on this front. If you stumble across any organic patriotic popcorn (no dyes or additives allowed) in your fiesta adventures, keep us posted.
But let’s get back to chiles, the basis for a lot of our distinctive festival cuisine and other cosmopolitan ways to chow down, Las Cruces style.
You still have to go to actual restaurants or shops for many of my all-time chile favorites, like Double Eagle’s green chile wontons, Caliche’s jalapeña sundaes, Teriakyi Chicken House’s green chile tempura and, of course, green chile chicken quiche — I’m particularly fond of the versions at The Shed and The Planet. Real men and strong women really DO eat quiche, especially if it’s packed with chiles.
And I have come upon some imaginative green chile fare at fairs, like chile fudge and green chile chocolate chip cookies one year at the Doña Ana Arts Council Renaissance ArtsFaire, the source of lots of imaginative multiethnic treats. Tortugas serves delicious, chile-infused albondigas every year after the pilgrimage and dancing at Our Lady of Guadalupe Fiesta.
I can’t remember which fiestas served them up, but I do have vivid memories of some other exotic goodies: green chile beer, green chile lemonade, red chile sausage on a stick, habañero ice cream...maybe you’ll rediscover them during this full-tilt fiesta season.
In the meantime, if you’re expecting a crowd for your own fiesta, I thought it would be nice to share the 2007 Whole Enchilada Fiesta recipes.
World’s Largest Organic Salad (the Mountain View Market produce crew hopes): 500 pounds of organic romaine, red and green leaf lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, broccoli and organic salad dressing.
Robert Estrada’s World’s Largest Enchilada: Make masa tortillas with 750 pounds of stone ground corn cooked in 175 gallons of vegetable oil. Make three giant layers of tortillas, each 10 and 1/2 feet in diameter. Assemble 175 pounds of grated cheese, 50 pounds of chopped onions and 75 gallons of savory red chile sauce and divide evenly between layers.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org