Christmas in New Mexico | Red & Green Chile

Christmas in New Mexico brings to mind many images. Farolitos glowing in the cold night, smoke rising from chimneys and fireplaces, the cinnamon-spiked scent of baking biscochitos, a pot of simmering posole and red chile on the stove, and chile ristras gently blowing in a snowy breeze. And yet, Christmas has quite another meaning to natives and transplants alike. Go to any New Mexican restaurant throughout the state and order your enchiladas or burrito “Christmas!” You’ll get a fiery taste of both red and green blanketing your food that will leave your mouth burning and your taste buds glowing from the flavors of both piquant peppers.

Red or Green? Christmas means both.

Same Plant, Different Flavors

Red and green chile come from the same plant. The color is a function of maturity. All chile starts out green , ripening to a rich red as the fruit matures. Red is fully ripe and has a sweeter flavor. The green is harvested when the pod is meaty, before it starts to turn red. The ripeness affects the taste, though both are delicious, suitable for a variety of dishes, both sweet and savory.

Red chile isn’t available until the end of the harvest season. Perhaps that is why it is used in lieu of gravy during Thanksgiving and Christmas and is frequently incorporated into a  traditional holiday dishes, like tamales, carne adovada, and torta de huevos. The sun-dried red chile sauce brings a rich taste that augments both sweet and savory dishes. You can add it to bread dough, sprinkle it into biscochito flour, or add minced garlic and onion for a tangier taste to pour over beef or cheese enchiladas. For a more unique holiday treat, that uses the abundance of pumpkins available during the autumn months, try these pumpkin and red chile empanadas flavored with goat cheese.

Red Chile Goat Cheese Pumpkin Empanada

Servings: A dozen or so, depending on size.

A plate of empanadas
Red chile pumpkin goat cheese empanadas are a twist on the classic meat or fruit pie usually eaten around Christmas, but they are truly a treat any time of the year.


  • 2 sugar pumpkins, halved and roasted for 45 minutes at 375F.
  • 1 cup Young Guns red chile sauce
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup herbed goat cheese
  • Empanada dough
  • 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt and a bit of water


  1. Prepping the empanadasHeat the oven to 375F, or keep the oven hot after roasting the pumpkin.
  2. Scoop out the roasted pumpkin flesh and pulse in a food processor until a thick puree forms.
  3. Heat the red chile sauce. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if desired.
  4. Grate in the garlic cloves.
  5. Mix the pumpkin puree with the red chile. Crumble in the goat cheese. You want a thicker textured puree so that it doesn’t run out of the empanada pastry.
  6. Roll out the empanada dough on a floured surface. Cut large circles, about 2-3 inches wide.
  7. Put about a tablespoon of the pumpkin puree in the middle of each dough circle. Dampen the edge of the dough with water, and fold over so that you have a half-moon shape. Press the tines of a fork along the closed edges so that the empanada is sealed. Brush each little pie with egg wash.
  8. Bake at 375º for 20 to 25 minutes, until the empanadas are golden brown.
  9. Cool for 10 minutes and eat.

Please leave your recipe modifications, or any questions that you may have, in the comments.

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Need Chile?

If you live in an area where red chile is hard to find, you can order from the Hatch Chile Store. They ship frozen red and green chile nationwide. They have mild to hot varieties available. Each package is 1 pound, which is approximately 2 cups.


  1. I haven’t tried these yet, but will soon. I am looking for a more flaky empanada dough. The ones I find are too bread like. Can you recommend an empanada dough recipe?

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