I went to the Southwest for the first time last week. I spent most of my time working, but I also got to spend a good amount of time eating. One of the places I spent the most time was Santa Fe, which is a great restaurant town. I thought that I would be sick of Mexican-American inspired food by the time I returned to New York City, but I was wrong. I find myself missing the bold flavors of the Southwest: Green chilies and blue corn especially.
On the restaurant side of things in Santa Fe I had wide variety of cuisine to choose from, all with a distinct Southwest flair. Three stick out: Cafe Pasqual’s, Raga, and Cafe Jambo.
Cafe Pasqual’s is a longtime favorite in Santa Fe and it’s easy to see why. Named for the saint of the kitchen, they focus on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and make all of their sauces fresh in a tiny kitchen. “Tiny” describes the cafe in general, which only seats 50 (though it looks like many less). As a result reservations are a must for the evening, though if you are a single person you can sit at the “Community Table” in the middle of the dining room without much of a wait. I went for breakfast and had the eggs motulenos, something I have never seen anything like here on the East Coast. Eggs over easy with black beans, green chili sauce, and sautéed banana, peas, feta and roasted tomato salsa. The breakfast set me up so well didn’t have to eat another meal until late that night! The community table also featured an artistic centerpiece that was a diorama of the royal wedding made out of marshmallow peeps.
Raga is a relatively new restaurant in Santa Fe (so new I can’t seem to find if they have an official website). An Indian restaurant they have a subtle Southwestern influence which I discovered in the Palak Paneer made with ground blue corn. The cheese, corn and curry melted together into an intensely flavorful dish. It was difficult not to eat the entire dish in one sitting. One of my fellow diners remarked that she had never had Indian food so good and she had traveled in India! While I have never been to India, I am included to agree that it was the best and freshest tasting Indian food I have had.
Finally, in a strip mall on Santa Fe’s main commercial strip Cerillos road across from my hotel I made the pleasant discovery of Cafe Jambo. Wedged between a Payless shoe store and a nail salon seemed an unlikely location for a chef-owned restaurant that features fresh “African homestyle cooking,” but there it was: welcoming, charming and delicious. For lunch I had a red bean and chicken soup and a salad featuring spice rubbed salmon with a mango mustard dressing, which was a lively panoply of flavors.
My most memorable meal however was not at a restaurant. On a Friday evening I had the pleasure of having an invitation to have dinner at the home of artist Sabra Moore in Abiquiu, New Mexico, about 45 minutes north of Santa Fe and best known for being home to Georgia O’Keefe. After hiking around the top of the mesa where she lives, exploring ancient petroglyphs in the arroyo and admiring her adobe house and straw bale studio, we sat down to eat a locally sourced and inspired meal.
In addition to her art, Sabra runs the nearby Espanola farmers market, which helps support local farmers, and has its own blog. She made me a pumpkin soup from a local pumpkin left over from last fall. It was garnished with a chili pepper native to the region. Sabra explained to me that the tradition of saving seeds and protecting heirloom varieties of plants is a strong part of the local culture. To go with the soup she made an incredible jalapeno corn bread that was light, rich and seemed to melt in my mouth. Sabra was kind enough to share the recipe with me and let me know this recipe has traveled all over the world. I’m so pleased to share it with you so that you too can have a little bit of rural New Mexico in your kitchen, no matter where you may be.
Sabra Moore’s Jalapeno Corn Bread
1 1/2 cup cornmeal (I used a mix of yellow and white the farmers use for atole)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 can cream-style corn (1 cup)
1 medium onion chopped
3 or 4 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup buttermilk
Mix together dry ingredients, then add chopped vegetables + can corn, then liquid and stir until mixed. Before baking, add a bit of oil to iron skillet on flame until very hot. Turn off heat and immediately pour in cornbread mix. Bake in oven at about 450 for about twenty minutes. (Top turns brown and springs slightly when touched.)