On Your Table: Nothing beats Hatch Chiles for Cinco De Mayo

By Cathy BranciaroliFood Correspondent, The Times

The cornerstone to a good enchilada is the sauce. In this dish it’s a Hatch green chile sauce, New Mexico style.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo marks a historical event but largely isn’t celebrated as a holiday.  In the US on the other hand, it’s become a fiesta of feasting and enjoying Mexican food.  Hardly anyone in this country knows its true origins, which are not Mexico’s Independence Day by the way but rather a military victory.

In any case we’ve adopted it as an occasion holiday that also provides a great excuse for friendly get-togethers where we prepare all manner of traditional Mexican foods.  Think salsas & chips, nachos, guacamole, chili, stews, enchiladas or chile rellenos.

And it’s about fiestas too.  If you’re in the mood for an outdoor celebration, check out the Kennett Square Cinco de Mayo Festival sponsored by Casa Guanajuato.  In its 27th year, this fun-filled event takes place from 11-5PM on Sunday, May 6.  The alcohol-free multicultural event is a family oriented street festival, highlighting food, the arts and music.  Among the ten participating restaurants are Taquería San Lucas Aztala, Los Taquitos de Puebla, Taquería Dos Amigos, Taquería Camargo, Restaurante El Agave plus vendors offering Mexican street foods.  For more details see the organizers’ website Cinco de Maya Festival.

So for my own celebration and since Cinco de Mayo is primarily an American event, I’ve gone to a native US ingredient for inspiration – hatch chiles from New Mexico.   These are the backbone for any number of breakfast, snack, dinner or dessert (yes dessert) dishes where green chiles are fire-roasted, peeled, chopped and made into a sauce.  Hot, yes, but not incendiary.  For that fiery kick, choose the fully mature, dried red chiles of the same breed.

Six to seven inches long, with a distinctly robust and earthy flavor, they thrive in the dry, hot Hatch valley of New Mexico, hence the name.  Make no mistake, these green chiles are not Poblanos, nor are they Anaheims — NM green chiles are a legendary breed that have their own names and range of flavors. Their bright, citrusy, twangy, smoky heat is considered to marry best with enchiladas where they are rolled with fillings and stuffed into tortillas, another traditional New Mexico staple.

So enchiladas with Hatch green chile sauce became my dish for this year’s Cinco de Mayo table, blending the cuisine of Native Americans and Spanish settlers and made with Southwest ingredients including zucchini squash and corn.

Fresh green chiles have an ephemeral season from August to September, so most of the year frozen or canned have to suffice.  I was lucky enough to get a sampling of whole frozen Hatch chiles from the nice folks at Melissa’s World Variety Produce who supply year round.  But cans of chopped chiles can also be found at local groceries.

To further inspire your Cinco de Mayo cooking, check out “50 Best Recipes for Hatch Chiles You Need Right Now”, a collection assembled by my friend Dorothy Reinhold of Shockingly Delicious at


Surely one of these dishes, if not the one featured in this column, could find a place at your family’s Cinco de Mayo meal.  Enjoy!


Hatch Green Chile Enchiladas with Chicken, Zucchini and Corn

The cornerstone to a good enchilada is the sauce.  In this recipe it envelopes rolled tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken.  Enchiladas also can be made in “stacked” form with ingredients layered like lasagna


Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil with 1 small chunk unsalted butter

1 large sweet onion chopped

3 garlic cloves peeled and minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 ½ tbs flour

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, more if needed for sauce consistency

2 cups hatch chiles roasted, deseeded and chopped (or poblano or anaheim)

1 small jalapeno chopped, seeds removed

1 tbs fresh oregano or ½ tsp dried

Salt & Pepper to taste

Melt oil & butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Sauté for 4-5 minutes or until starting to soften and translucent. Add cumin, sauté for a minute or so. Sprinkle flour over onion mixture, cook and stir for a minute or two. Slowly stir in chicken broth until no flour clumps remain. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another five minutes or so until mixture is hot and thickened.

Add chiles, oregano, jalapeno and. stir until everything is evenly distributed. When the sauce comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, adding more water or stock if the sauce gets too thick or dry. Add salt to taste.  Can be made ahead.  Store in the refrigerator or freeze.


Enchiladas and Garnish

10-12 soft tortillas (flour or corn) depending on amount of filling in each

1 rotisserie chicken deboned, cut up and shredded

1 medium zucchini, diced

1 cup fresh or canned corn

1 tbs olive oil

½ onion, rough chop

1 tbs minced garlic

2 cups Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese grated

1 cup crumbled queso fresco

¾ cup scallions thinly sliced

1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Mexican crema, or sour cream

Thinly slivered crisp lettuce, radishes or other garnish


Heat the enchilada sauce if made previously. Preheat the oven to 375.  Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onions and sauté 3-5 minutes until they start to soften and golden, adding garlic at the end.  Add the zucchini, corn and cilantro, a dash of salt and pepper and sauté 3 more minutes.  Toss mixture with the chicken to combine. Remove from heat.

Traditionally tortillas are heated and softened by lightly browning in a dry skillet and then dipping in the enchilada sauce.  One also can steam them briefly in the microwave.  Given the heat of the hatch chiles I skipped the dipping step and instead spread a tablespoon of the sauce onto each of the tortillas as a base for the filling.

Pour a little of the enchilada sauce along the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Spread the sauce on each tortilla.  Then evenly divide the chicken and zucchini mixture among the tortillas. Top with plenty of grated cheese.  Roll up and place in the baking dish, seam side down. Pour more of the sauce over the enchiladas and top with more cheese.  Drizzle each with cheese.

Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 more. If the cheese isn’t brown and bubbly just yet, turn on the broiler and watch carefully while enchiladas broil for 2-3 minutes.

For serving, place individual portions on plates, sprinkle with queso fresco. Pour sauce over each.  Place a dollop of crema or sour cream on top and garnish with scallions, cilantro etc.  Serve immediately.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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