—For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.
Rainer Maria Rilke
New Mexico is known as the land of enchantment and it works its magic on you slowly. The food, culture and landscape quietly collude to slow down the fastest of New Yorkers, reminding me of how important travel is for reminding us who we are, showing us what else is out there and adding depth to the soul. The wedding of one of my dearest friends brought me out to New Mexico. Arriving late after being seated by chance on the plane next to the Associate General Counsel of one of my firm’s biggest clients, I had hidden away all of my trashy magazines and opted for the New Yorker as a safer bet, before actually engaging in conversation. I felt the beginning of change immediately after exchanging cards and walking out. The airport had signs. I followed them to a rental car. The city had two highways and I easily followed I25 to I40 got off at Louisiana and found my place.
Here is how you know you’re in New Mexico. First thing in the morning, I followed some easy directions to Sophia’s Place, having no idea that it was going to be one of the best meals (and biggest) I’ve had in a long time. This is where I got part of the inspiration for my own enchiladas verdes. The woman at the counter asked a few questions as to how I wanted my dish, but the most important question, “red or green?” defines the experience –a question I would hear a lot throughout the week. “Green chili, of course.” The rest of my inspiration came from spending a few days at the magical Los Poblanos Ranch, voted by Bon Appetit as the #6 best food lovers hotel in America because of its farm to fork dining. The place is actually magical with lavender fields as a backdrop for your days and peacocks wandering the grounds. I even got to spend some time in their beautiful pastry kitchen helping to put the wedding cake together. Right down the road is Farm & Table restaurant where I got the idea for the beluga lentils, shiny black in color and easy to cook. They look like caviar. Among the many meals I had this week, the one at Farm and Table might have been the best of them all. More on the trip in a bit, but first I will share how I put together my own New Mexican feast and bring the magic right into my own kitchen. I had these again last night and added an egg and avocado, which only enhanced the flavors and textures.
- 2 bone-in chicken breast halves
- 1/4 white onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 6 tablespoons New Mexican green chili (I brought some home with me, but you can substitue tomatillo salsa if you don’t have any)
- 1/2 cup beluga lentils
- 1/2 cup Mexican cotija cheese
- About 6 store-bought or homemade corn tortillas
- 1 handful cilantro
In a saucepan, combine chicken breast with chicken broth, one quarter onion, a clove of garlic, and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, and then boil for 20 minutes. Reserve broth, set chicken aside to cool, and discard onion and garlic. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken with your hands or two forks.
Place lentils in a pot with 1.5 cups water, more than enough to cover them. Bring to boil, and continue boiling until all the water is absorbed and lentils are soft.
I used store bought tortillas. There are two methods here. I used the oven method rather than frying for flavor.
Frying: Pour oil in a frying pan, and allow to get very hot. Slightly fry tortillas one by one in hot oil, setting each on a paper towel afterwards to soak some of the oil. Finally, dip slightly fried tortillas in low-boiling green salsa, until tortillas become soft again. Place on plates, 3 per person.
Baking: Set oven to 350F. Spread tortillas on a baking sheet and warm for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven when warm. Pour green chili salsa over tortillas.
Fill or top tortillas with shredded chicken, then extra green sauce. Top with crumbled cheese, chopped onion, and chopped cilantro.
After that wonderful breakfast, I drove out to historic highway 14 and met with this guy. His name is Donald and he owns the ranch at Cedar Hills. He led me on a tour of the city of Albuquerque from high above in the Cibola Forest, pointing out pieces of history and landscape along the way. You could smell cedar and piñon along the way. Afterwards, I stopped into a saloon and had lunch (red chili this time) until the Harley Davidson club walked in and filled the place up. Then it was time to see my friends.
Watching my friends get married and being with their whole family again like when we were kids was beautiful. It moved me in a way that felt like home. I hadn’t realized pieces of yourself find homes in other people, not just in your family or your significant others, but people you connect with along your journey. It had been so long since I stayed up late just singing along with a guitar, drinking good wine and whisky and eating fresh delicious food with good friends under the stars and satellites.
On the way back to New York I met a young kid in the Army who had joined about a year ago straight out of high school, getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan after a brief leave. It momentarily suspended all of my thoughts and reminded me that these freedoms we have come at a price. We chatted for a bit about a lot of different things and I thanked him for his service, wished him luck and safety and we said goodbye with a hug. All of these experiences will stay with me, my thoughts following everyone with whom I spent time. As I settle back into my life, my kitchen will be cooking up all of the flavors of New Mexico and invoking all of the wonder that the land of enchantment bestowed upon me.
Dedicated to Jon and Keryn on their wedding for making me part of their wonderful day and to Jordan in Afghanistan, safe travels to you. And take it easy on the wintergreen dip. It’s a tough habit to quit!