Winter in New Mexico has its own special charm. As with other seasons, there are things to look forward to and the Christmas season is definitely one of them. The true delight of the this time of year, however, can be found in the foods that decorate the holiday tables. From biscochitos to tamales, and posole to warm Pueblo bread, New Mexican food has a whole lot to offer when it comes to celebrating.
Biscochitos are New Mexico’s state cookie. A favorite during the holidays, their cinnamon-coated sweetness brighten up many a Christmas table. The name is a diminutive form of the Spanish word for “biscuit”. Embraced by New Mexican cooks since their arrival with the Spanish in the sixteenth century, these delicious shortbread cookies are a staple for weddings, special events and holidays.
Making tamales is often a family affair, adding to the holiday fun. Named for the ancient Aztec word “tamalii”, or “wrapped food”, they are thousands of years old. Ancient people of Mesoamerica valued them due to the fact they were easy to carry with them. Tamales do, however, take time to make so are generally made in large quantities. Corn husks are softened in water before a corn dough, known as masa, is spread on them. The dough is topped with a filling which consists of meat, cheese and chili. The filled husks are folded up and the tamales are steamed or boiled until the dough is done.
Nixtamalization is the name for the process in which dried maize, or corn, is placed in a mixture of lye, lime or wood ash in order to soften it enough to cook. The name comes from the Nahuatl language, a language belonging to ancient people such as the Aztecs, who lived in southern Mexico and Central America. The cooked corn is called hominy in certain parts of the country, and posole in New Mexico. Cooked with meat, chili and other spices, posole has found favor as a warm, nourishing food to get people through a long, cold winter.
Pueblo bread is baked for every occasion. Each of the nineteen Pueblos have their own version of the warm treat. Originally ground nuts, corn and beans were used to create the bread. When the Spanish brought wheat to New Mexico, this became the popular ingredient. Splits are made on top of the dough to make the bread easier to pull apart before the loaves are placed in a horno, a beehive-shaped outdoor adobe oven, to bake. Hornos use wood for their heat. Today the bread provides not only good food for the Pueblo people, but also a source of extra income from selling the loaves.
As you look to your own celebration, add a bit of New Mexico flavor to your table this holiday season. Savor the richness of some spicy posole or a plate of tamales, munch on a biscochito and have a happy holiday!