By Patricia Lee Sharpe
The wildfire season is upon us. Until it rains, as we hope it will, soon, the following activities are banned from all Santa Fe city recreational areas: romantic campfires, wood- or charcoal-based cookery, cigarette smoking, fast-and-fun spark-generating vehicles and sky-piercing fireworks. Similar prohibitions apply to County and State lands. Last year the fire threat was so ominous that hiking trails were totally closed for many long weeks.
Meanwhile, rivers are trickles, reservoirs are low, forests are tinder waiting for ignition and—horror of horrors!—the chili crop in Hatch is under threat. Water needed for pepper irrigation is being slurped up before it reaches the chili fields in southern New Mexico. The way things are going, meteorologists say, the harvest will be small and any little green pods that manage to get to market will be expensive.
A crisis in the making.
In Northern New Mexico we put green chilis in or on practically everything—and I’m not referring only to huevos rancheros, enchiladas, tamales, empanadas and the like. How about steak with a green chili and mushroom topping? Or baked potatoes crowned with green chilis? Or marinara laced with green chilis? Or green chilis tucked under the skin of a roasting chicken? As for desert, consider chipotlé strawberry gelato or red hot dark chocolate made by the Chocolate Cartel in Albuquerque. When people mention Christmas in Santa Fe, they’re not thinking about Santa Claus. They’re ordering a dish that features red and green chili.
A chili habit is expensive to maintain, especially since a year’s supply has to be bought in a single swoop. Growers, having charred their chilis in wire cages rotated over beds of charcoal, stuff the limp hot pods into pint-sized baggies that have been been selling for five bucks a pop. Let’s do the math. I may live alone, but I still need twelve of fifteen bags to see me over the winter and through to the next harvest. That’s some sixty to seventy-five dollars per annum. Now multiply that sum by three or four to satisfy a whole family’s taste for tingle. Ouch!
Tingle varies, of course. There’s mild for wimps, medium for those who can stand a little excitement and hot for people who like to play with fire. A good trick is to mix a baggie of fire with a bag of medium. Otherwise the heat in the dish you’re preparing may be so strong you can’t taste anything else.
Chilis bought, you take the bags home and freeze them, and here’s what you do when you hanker for some green chili. You thaw the chilis, peel off their cellophane-like skins, remove their heads and seeds, then chop, chop, chop. That’s it. Use the chopped chilis à la paragraph four above. Or any other way that comes to mind. If you have any freshly chopped chilis left over or want to ready several bags at once, do this: pretend you’re making drop cookies, but don’t put the cookie tray in the oven. Place it in the freezer. When the dollops are frozen, collect them into freezer bags and store them until you need them. Thawed eight or more months later, the chili will be just fine. But who can wait that long?
Meanwhile, you’ll need two dollops of chilis (about two tablespoons) for the two-egg omelet we’re about to make. In an hour or less they’ll thaw and be ready to use.
The eggs I prefer are from the super duper local poultry farm called Pollo Real, which retails chicken products every Saturday morning at the Farmers’ Market. (Tuesdays, too, during mid-summer.) These eggs are so fresh it’s almost a crime to tart them up, but the better the eggs the better the omelet. For cheese, what you’ll need is aged cheddar or maybe gruyère. At any rate, grate some cheese with a flavor you like. You’ll need a couple of ounces or more, depending on the runniness of the omelet you’re aiming for.
As for the rest, here’s what also goes into my chili cheese omelet: a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh tomato and a generous tablespoon of chopped onions. Vary and balance the amounts to please your own palate. That’s what slapdash cooking is all about. Being free. Having fun. Eating well.
When it comes to beating the eggs, I blend the whites and yellows, then add a tablespoon or so of water and beat a little more. I apply the thinnest possible film of butter to a non-stick pan, get the surface really hot, pour in the eggs, scatter chili, tomato and onions over one half of the egg rondel and sprinkle the cheese over the whole circle. What comes next is simple but important. I cook my omelets warily on fairly low heat, to keep the eggs from burning while the veggies get semi-cooked and the cheese melts.
Shortly after the bottom surface of the omelet begins to show hints of golden browning, I fold the non-veg half over the half with veggies. Sometimes I flip the resulting half moon, too, once or twice, depending on what’s happening inside. The goal is to congeal the egg as much as you like without scorching the outer surface of the omelet. If you use good eggs, by the way, it's not necessary to cook them to death. What’s more, a decent omelet isn’t leathery.
Finally, slide the omelet onto one plate—or cut it in half and serve two people who want to have room for toast and muffins, too. Some words of caution: if presentation is important to you, don’t try to make a four egg omelet this way. You’ll end up with curious free form offerings on the plates.
By rights this chili cheese omelet should be served with green chile sausage, also from organic venders at the Farmers’s Market. But bacon’s just as good, and that’s all I had on hand: local bacon, smoked just right. Better than filet mignon. For breakfast, anyway.
And while you’re enjoying your omelet, do please pray for rain.