When I was younger, I never understood why my New Mexican stepdad put green chile in the mashed potatoes. It took me 15 years and a handful of uninspiring buffet plates to realize the secret: It’s fun to sweat.
Fortunately it’s chile season here in the Southwest, and if you’re not already sweating before you sit down to eat, it’s not too late to start. There’s just something so alluring about the Hatch chile — its meaty peppery punch or the deep earthiness perhaps — that has us putting it into just about everything.
The chile relleno tamale at Tucson Tamale Company, 2545 E. Broadway, fits securely into that category of irresistible chile hybrids. Nestled snuggly inside a hearty roasted red pepper masa and plump of gooey cheese, the soft slab of Hatch chile makes this a substantial meal. And the chile is fresh too: The 6-year-old company recently installed a chile roaster, which periodically fills their store with that enticing smoky aroma.
Now of course, green chile tamales aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel. But Tucson Tamale Company stands out for their devotion to sourcing ethical, high-grade product. The masa imported specially from California is certified non-GMO, and most of their products are organic and/or gluten free. Even the fabulous spicy black beans they offer on the side show evidence of a gourmand's touch: they’re dusted with berbere, an African spice blend that owner Todd Martin adapted from a Marcus Samuelsson recipe.
But if you really want something that’ll give your senses a whirl, head west to Mother Hubbard’s Café, 14 W. Grant Road, where they’ll serve you a green chile waffle that’ll actually make you fear breakfast. The chiles they use — both chopped up in a batter filled with moist corn, and in a stew that feels more like a dare than a topping — were incredibly spicy. So spicy, in fact, that I couldn't have finished the waffle without half the bottle of syrup they put on the table.
But I’m so glad I did, because before that morning I had never realized that sugary maple syrup and deliriously potent pepper can live in such sweet harmony. And with that incredible pain and release, life's flavors begin to open up ...