Cuisine of the Southwestern United States Article -
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Cuisine of the Southwestern United States

The Southwest is a parched place. But the spicy food sure gets your juices flowing.

Southwest cuisine reflects its Mexican, Spanish, and Native American heritage.

Variations on a Theme

Under the umbrella of Southwestern regional cuisine, we can find even more specialized expressions with names like Tex-Mex (beef fajitas), Sonoran-style (the chimichanga), Cal-Mex (fish tacos) and New Mexican-style (green chile stew and rellenos casserole). But taken together, these expressions make up a consistent and recognizable style of cooking: Southwest style!

Nothing Chilly about It

The sun isn't the only thing giving off heat in the Southwest. More than 200 varieties of chiles add fire to Southwestern food. Chiles come fresh or dried. Often they are roasted or smoked, and sometimes packed in adobo sauce. Chiles can be mild, like the Anaheim; medium, like the dark green poblano (perfect for rellenos); or super hot, like the habanero. Don't assume green chiles are milder than red--color is not a reliable indicator of heat. If you find your chiles are too hot, try cutting away the ribs and discarding the seeds, where the heat-containing compound (called capsaicin) congregates.

Tame the Flames

Spicy Southwestern cuisine pairs particularly well with Mexican beer. A squeeze of lime adds to the refreshment! Another classic match is the marvelous margarita, a cold concoction that blends tequila with fresh lime juice and orange-flavored liqueur like Triple Sec or Cointreau. Sangria is another classic. Introduced by the Spanish, who planted wine grapes in parts of the Southwest, sangria combines red wine and fresh fruit to help tame the flames.

At the Northern Edge of the Southwest

As the arid Southwest stretches northeast into higher desert elevations, the familiar tableau of spiny cacti and bone-dry terrain gives way to wide-open rangelands where the Great Plains rub up against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The stews, roasts, and one-pot dishes that grew up here made use of wild game and freshwater fish and reflect the diet of early prospectors, explorers and Native Americans.

The Start of Something

Many staples of Southwestern cuisine were first cultivated by native cultures. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, Aztecs were busy cultivating corn, chiles, beans, avocados, and tomatoes. As the Spanish moved north, they encountered Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo and Pima tribes tending to corn, beans and squash. Along the way, the Spanish introduced pigs and cattle and contributed cheese, rice and lard to the pantry. From these early encounters, Southwestern cuisine got its start.

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    Dec. 26, 2009 8:07 am
    If it really is too hot and burning your mouth put a piece of dry bread in it and it'll go away, after that I'm not responsible. Being a foreigner I'm well traveled in the U.S. and the best food was in the south west, it has character and ain't bland like in the east. Happy New Year to all.
    carl v.gregory 
    Dec. 26, 2009 8:35 am
    I carry my tobasco sauce with me in a holster on my belt.
    Dec. 26, 2009 9:54 am
    If you suffer form "gringo mouth" and burn your mouth with chilis, drink a little milk. Water only makes it worse. Better yet, learn to eat chilis. It's not about the heat; it's about the flavor!
    Jan. 17, 2010 8:07 am
    My Daughter likes mexican foods so now that I have the recipes she can make them for herself.
    Jun. 5, 2011 2:42 pm
    How do I calm a sauce down . Too much heat
    Apr. 20, 2012 4:34 pm
    like Marenin I would like to know how to calm down a too too hot sauce. Any ideas?
    May 10, 2012 5:55 pm
    Add some sour cream to cool down the hot chillies. It also works very well if you burn your hands etc. just grab sour cream, rub on, works great!
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