The Chile Line: Historic Northern New Mexican Recipes
by Liddie Martinez
Pajarito Press

"My grandma once said to me, 'It will be you who will keep our story going.' Thank God, once again, she was right."

Entrenched in generations-old culture and tradition, Martinez's work is less a recipe book and more of a savory experience bursting with the energy and authenticity of a rural northern New Mexico family farm upbringing. While the majority of recipe books are de facto manuals with step-by-step instructions that yield an almost robotic experience, Martinez's cookbook tells the story of her family and her community. From her first real memory—the "smoky scent of bacon frying in the kitchen"—to her grandmother's green apron and Spanish music playing during culinary adventures, there is an undeniable element of connectivity that is sure to grab the readers' attention.

The recipes incorporate wholesome ingredients, such as corn, beans, and squash. Martinez calls these "the three sisters," and they are a key foundation of the recipes. Interestingly, the book came to fruition almost by accident when Martinez's son, who had moved to Oklahoma City, could not remember a particular recipe. This prompted Martinez and her husband to send everything from red and green chiles to chicos and bizcochitos to Oklahoma. As a food columnist for the Los Alamos Daily Post, her "Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes" column delivers the same sensory experience and spirit enclosed within this recipe book.

From the perspective of the user experience, Martinez's readers will surely appreciate the specificity of her recipe advice, such as using a particular type of cooking vessel: a Dutch oven. For many of her recipes, the author ensures a successful and gratifying culinary outcome by not only sharing which steps to take but also common pitfalls that could derail the flavor of the final product. For instance, several recipes have additional guidance, such as refraining from stirring or disturbing the contents while the cooking is taking place. To a great degree, going through this cookbook is like having a helpful voice in your head while cooking. With the images so up close and personal, a sense of intense intimacy is combined with an interactive and engaging delivery. With each page and recipe, it exudes a little bit of culture and tradition for an unparalleled experience.

The inspiration for the recipes comes from a fusion of cuisine derived from the Spanish and from indigenous tribes in New Mexico. The variety and exotic nature of the recipes—in conjunction with more well-known culinary delights like posole, gazpacho, enchilada casseroles, tostadas, tamales, and burritos—is comprehensive and commendable. Though some dishes may be more unfamiliar to the reader, they will intrigue and inspire the cook. Specifically, the recipes "Albondigas" and "Green Adovada" stand out for both their originality and creativeness. Moreover, the story embedded in each recipe is heartwarming. As the author reiterates, a powerful culinary experience rarely needs to have steps recited to memory. On the contrary, the creator will immediately identify sensory connections that link to memorable times. An ideal example is the albondigas recipe, which also tells the story of generations of men cleaning acequias—community-operated waterways—while women prepared their wholesome meals.

Storytelling is perhaps what sets Martinez's cookbook apart. However, the most memorable narrations stem from her pinto beans recipe as well as her "Torta de Huevo en Chile Colorado." In the former, the origin story of the pinto beans on her farm, as they first push their heads through the soil, is mesmerizing and immediately evokes images of childbirth. The torta recipe unveils Martinez's Catholic Hispanic family traditions as it commences with a traditional pilgrimage to Santuario de Chimayo. As for origin stories, the evolution of the Roman flan (made with fowl) to the Spanish rendition with caramel as we know it today no doubt takes the cake. A cookbook that enriches and entertains at the same time, this one is a must-have for all culinary enthusiasts.

A 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award Home Category Honorable Mention

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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