Discover Hatch, NM - and its annual Chile Festival

Roasting chilies at the Hatch Chile Festival Photo by Carla DeMarco.
Roasting chilies at the Hatch Chile Festival

Just when the rest of New Mexico begins to cool at the dawn of autumn, Southern New Mexico begins to sizzle. The fiery happenings begin on Labor Day Weekend when the normally pacific village of Hatch is transformed into blissful pandemonium.

Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World, lies in the fertile Rio Grande valley, some 30 mostly-arid miles northwest of Las Cruces. The tiny town is the heart of New Mexico’s chile land; over 30,000 acres of the succulent pods are cultivated annually.

Chile pepper is Land of Enchanters’ mysterious and highly addictive vegetable that - depending on its heat level - may cause brows to sweat, noses to run, eyes to tear, and alas, guttural hiccups upon overdose. It’s a painfully pleasant experience New Mexicans welcome many times daily. Chefs use the chile both fresh and roasted - whole to stuff with cheese for rellenos, sliced to anoint burgers and steaks, and diced for sauces, salsa, stews, and other dishes that demand a pungent punch.

To usher in the chile season, Hatch hosts the Labor Day Chile Festival. The venue is split between downtown and the airstrip, two miles west on Highway 26.  The lively festival draws thousands of tourists from around the world and features a chili cook-off, arts and crafts galore, two-steppin’ music, sidewalk sales, chile eats and products, and a parade led by the newly crowned Ms. Chile.

The main purchase item is, of course, fresh picked chile portioned out in 40-pound burlap bags. Shuffling along with the big sacks, New Mexicans form queues at the roasting stations where the fleshy pods are toasted in giant metal baskets that rotate over a hissing propane flame. Sweet and delicious, a smoky aroma sweeps through the valley whetting appetites that beg for a chile fix - "now." Chile maniacs flock to the food carrels to devour pudgy burritos, two-fisted gorditas, cheese-laden rellenos or full to bursting sopaipillas . . . it’s a culinary adventure that both permanent and fleeting New Mexicans anticipate each harvest.

The Hatch Chile Festival is, indeed, a hot item on Labor Day weekend. And when the first batch of chile rolls off the roaster, celebrate the occasion by preparing Misty Weathers’ award winning green enchiladas (recipe below) for which she placed second in the 1988 Hatch Chile Cookoff.

Green Enchiladas

2 cans of creamy chicken mushroom soup
1 can water
2 dozen tortillas
1 pound grated cheese
Chopped onion
Garlic powder to taste
3 chopped roasted green chiles

Mix soup, water, garlic and chile. Cook soup for a few minutes. Warm tortillas. Roll small amounts of cheese and onions in tortillas and place in pan. Pour soup mix over tortillas and bake for 30-40 minutes.