Above: Chile ristras hanging for sale in Chimayó, New Mexico

An Encounter With Rare Chimayó Chiles

What sets New Mexican food apart from other cuisines is the custom of incorporating chile peppers — whether crushed, roasted, pickled, fresh, dried or powdered — into just about any dish. These fruits thrive in New Mexico because of the hot, dry days and steady, cool temperatures at night due to the state’s high altitude.

Red and green sauces are drawn from the same peppers at different levels of ripeness.

Farmers pick the chiles green off the plant; they can then be roasted and peeled to make dishes such as rellenos or cut into chunks to make sauces, but the alternative is to let the peppers dry until they turn a dark, leathery red. Most people regard bundles of these dried chiles, known as ristras, as the design element that epitomizes Southwestern charm.

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