By Larry Litt

There are several rules you must know before talking about the vegetarian cuisine of New Mexico. Number one is never, ever call it Tex-Mex, or you'll be ignored for the rest of the conversation. That's like saying you're a New Yorker when you come from Newark, New Jersey. It's close, but oh, so far away! The argument extends to which grows the hotter peppers, and even to which citizens can eat the hottest dishes.

There's a bitter rivalry between New Mexico and Texas about which state invented the original and authentic Southwest American cuisine. The argument extends to which grows the hotter peppers, and even to which citizens can eat the hottest dishes. Fortunately, we're concerned only with New Mexico at this time. I personally wouldn't want to referee an interstate Southwest cookoff; the hotness of their tempers is equivalent to the peppers, so they say.

Rule number two is a little more complicated. It's about spelling and is even more important than rule number one. The red and green peppers that are the mainstay of New Mexican cooking are spelled "Chiles" - Never ever "chilis" or "chilies." This vowel distinction has on occasion driven New Mexicans to threaten war. In fact, there is a law on the books stating that any product made in New Mexico must spell its pepper content with an 'e' at the end or something terrible will happen to the misspelling offender. Just what no one knows, but my informants assured me it's bad.

New Mexicans will always tell you, at the drop of a chile, "Our food is based on our ancestral northern Mexican tradition. But we're different, we're modern and we're American. For the most part, we don't use lard any more. We eat many more salads. We've even started incorporating non- Mexican products into our menus."

The most forward thinking and adventuresome chefs in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are going out of their way to please vegetarians. There are several new brands of fried-in-vegetable oil tortillas manufactured daily. Packaged vegetarian refritos (refried beans) appear on almost every grocer's shelf. Now, many vegans can make New Mexican foods with non-dairy cheese alternatives and prepared refried beans that use v egetable oils and water. Most of these products are available nationally, or soon will be, at health food and fancy food markets.

To give you some idea of the variety of salsas available in New Mexico, I went into an average supermarket. There were two full sections, approximately 20 brands and a dozen types of chile salsas, jalapenos, and other New Mexican-made pepper products for sale. I bought several of them, tried each, and then sought out the recipes from local chefs who made the same style preparations at home.

The similarities are there, of course, but each chef I spoke to added a variation that they felt was authentic. I'm offering you a choice of a green chile and a red chile salsa. Remember, these can be very mild or very spicy depending on your ability to "take the heat," as they say in Hatch, New Mexico, the small farm town that brags that it's the home of the hottest peppers on earth.

From ingeniously simple to highly hybrid, enjoy some of the new tastes of vegetarian New Mexico.


(Serves 6)

Serve with more salsa and tofu sour cream.

  • 6 fresh corn tortillas (containing no animal products)
  • 1 cup refried beans
  • 1 cup mashed avocados
  • 1 cup red or green salsa
  • 1 cup fresh lettuce, sliced very thin
  • 1 cup tomatoes, seeded and chopped

Layer the refried beans, mashed avocados, and salsa on the tortillas. Bake for ten minutes at 350 degrees. Remove and layer lettuce and tomatoes.

Total calories per serving: 156
Fat: 7 grams


(Serves 6)

This salsa recipe is a staple with hundreds of variations possible. Try adding fresh corn off the cob or diced carrots after the blending. Serve plain with tostada chips or put on just about anything.

  • 1 Tablespoon roasted hot oriental peppers, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green or red mild to medium chile peppers
  • 1 cup tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup white onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2-3 teaspoons vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the ingredients together in a blender for a few seconds. It should be like a thick juice with some chunkier pieces.

Total calories per serving: 30
Fat: less than 1 gram


(Serves 6)

Serve this dish with tostada chips.

  • 2-3 cups pre-cooked brown rice
  • 1 medium (1-½ pounds) eggplant, baked 45 minutes,
    skin peeled off, then drained in a strainer while mashing
  • 1 red onion, cleaned and finely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow or zucchini squash, carefully washed and finely chopped
  • ½ pound firm tofu, drained approximately 15 minutes and crumbled
  • ½ cup frozen or fresh green chile peppers, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4-6 whole fresh bell or poblano peppers,
    stems and seed sacks removed (Cut around the stem base;
    the whole seed sack will come out;
    then wash and drain the inside of the peppers.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix the rice, vegetables, tofu, and seasonings in a bowl. Stuff the hollowed-out peppers with the mixture. Set the stuffed peppers in a non-stick baking pan, preferably on their sides. Put a little water in the pan as well. Cover and bake for about 30 minutes. Be sure to check the stuffed peppers so they don't overcook and dry out. Remove from oven, and cover each pepper with salsa to taste.

Total calories per serving: 194
Fat: 4


(Serves 6)

Seitan (wheat gluten) can be found in natural foods stores.

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled and sliced into ½-inch rounds
  • 2 green bell peppers, washed, stemmed and seeded,
    cut into ½-inch-wide x 2-inch strips
  • 1 pound seitan, cut into ¼ inch x 2-inch strips
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, cut into ½-inch chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons Korean pepper paste
    (Go Chu Jang: available in Oriental groceries)
  • 2 Tablespoons soy cheese, shredded
  • 6 whole-wheat tortillas
  • 1 cup Tofu Sour Cream

Heat the oil in a large skillet. When hot, sauté the sliced onions for about 2 minutes. Add the sliced peppers, sliced seitan strips, and avocado. Sauté 2-3 minutes; then add the Go Chu Jang paste and mix everything together. Sauté for another minute or two, sprinkle the soy cheese on top and let it melt. Serve the hot fajita mixture on a fresh tortilla with Tofu Sour Cream topping. Serve with plain white rice as a side dish to absorb the fajita drippings. For authenticity, roll the fajitas in the tortillas. Have plenty of napkins handy.

Total calories per serving: 318
Fat: 10 grams


(Serves 6)

This stew only gets better and hotter the next day. I use a large dollop of Tofu Sour Cream to cut the heat.

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 medium white potatoes cut into ¼ x 1 inch sections
  • 1 pound frozen or fresh roasted green chiles, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup dried pinto beans, washed, soaked overnight,
    drained, washed again, and then cooked in 4 cups
    fresh cold water for approximately 40 minutes or until tender

In a large sauce pan, heat the oil and fry the chopped onions for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add the chopped garlic and sliced potatoes. Fry together 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently so the mixture doesn't burn. Add the defrosted or fresh green chiles and continue to fry until the mixture is well blended and all the vegetables are soft. Add the cooked pinto beans and bean water. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat to a simmer. Cook semi-covered 15 minutes. Serve with tortillas.

Total calories per serving: 185
Fat: 3 grams


(Serves 6)

Serve over your favorite New-Mex dish.

  • 8 ounces silken or soft tofu drained for 15 minutes,
    then squeeze out the remaining water
    through cheese cloth or very fine strainer
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt

Combine the ingredients and blend with a hand blender or whisk until it is creamy smooth. Use a spatula or spoon to crush any lumps that may remain.

Total calories per serving: 21
Fat: 1 gram

Larry Litt is a freelance writer from New York, New York.

About The Vegetarian Journal and The Vegetarian Resource Group

This article originally appeared in the November/December, 1995 issue of The Vegetarian Journal, published by:

The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343