Many meals in the Southwest are evidence of the free-spirited Wild West past that came before. Rules and conventions for food are best left at home when adding Southwestern flavor to your menu. Case in point: The gloriously cheesy, meaty (and portable) walking taco, which legend has it was invented in Santa Fe, N.M. Some dishes of the Southwest like nachos and quesadillas may not be perfectly authentic Mexican food—and they’re not exactly Tex-Mex, either—but they sure are delicious.
The people of New Mexico are known for their deep love of the green chili, and it shows in the cooking of Executive Chef Aida Samaniego, Chef Mike Guerra and the rest of the culinary team at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Los Cruces.
“New Mexico is the green chili capital of the world, so green chili is used in many recipes throughout the Southwest,” Samaniego says. “We top fries and burgers with it, we mix it into our dips and soups and even have desserts like caramelized green chili pecans, green chili shakes and green chili pecan sandies.”
And the tamales made on campus are green, too.
“Unlike the varieties of tamales that you find in Mexico, in New Mexico, you typically see green chilies and cheese,” Samaniego says, adding that red pork tamales are also popular.
Other Southwestern specialties at NMSU include coctel de camaron (a version of shrimp cocktail with salsa instead of cocktail sauce), elote (Mexican street corn) and pozole (hominy stew).
Students run to walking tacos
Students use the “shake, crunch and eat” method on walking taco days at Phoenix’s Cartwright School District #83. Walking tacos are a portable version of Frito pie.
“We use bags of tortilla chips, putting the taco meat into the bag with a sprinkle of shredded cheese,” says Diane Gruman, SNS, director of food service. “We serve it with a side of shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and a side of salsa. The students can add what they want to it and then shake, crunch and eat. They love it! It’s fun and delicious.”
Other Southwestern foods you’ll find at the school district include quesadillas, pinto beans and pork tamales.
Gruman also reports a classic and versatile chili-lime spice blend, Tajin, has increased student consumption of both fruits and vegetables.