Jersey-Mex ain’t Tex-Mex, but it’ll do in a pinch!

New Jersey-grown tomatillos and sweet corn get toasty on the grill.
New Jersey-grown tomatillos and sweet corn get toasty on the grill.

I love to cook, but I don’t pretend to be a food writer as qualified as my friend and former colleague, Rachel Weston, or even my sister, who keeps her own food blog here on WordPress. And to be fair and keep things in perspective, probably neither of them is as qualified as I am to write about gnomes.

Still, I do know my way around the kitchen a little, and as a Native Texan living in New Jersey for the past 18 years or so, I would like to give happy acknowledgement to a trend I thought I’d never see, the Texification of New Jersey farm crops.

Fresh poblano peppers get a nice char on the grill before being sweated and peeled for chile rellenos.
Fresh poblano peppers get a nice char on the grill before being sweated and peeled for chile rellenos.

On a recent Saturday excursion to Alstead Farms of Chester, N.J.,  I was surprised to find locally grown jalapeño and poblano peppers, along with another real prize, tomatillos! Of course Alstead Farms also grows more traditional, Jerseyfied produce such as sweet corn, tomatoes, peaches and blueberries, but the peppers and tomatillos were a real find.

Where New Jersey may be lagging is in marketing those items traditionally found in Tex-Mex cuisine for a customer base that might not know what to do with them.

One farm worker with Hispanic heritage asked why I was so interested in the poblano peppers she was just putting on display. Her eyes lit up with surprise when I said that I made chile rellenos with them. Evidently, there are few people living in my neck of the woods who know anything about that recipe.

Inside while checking out, another worker knew the name of the tomatillos, but seemed clueless about what anyone would want to do with them. I told him that, among other recipes, I might use tomatillos to make a sauce for green chile enchiladas. The young man feigned interest, but I could tell he’d never heard of enchiladas either.

Roasted corn and tomatillo salsa is just the thing with tortilla chips and a cold beer.
Roasted corn and tomatillo salsa is just the thing with tortilla chips and a cold beer.

Once home, we started to prepare our New Jersey harvest for a Texan’s table. The tomatillos were quickly husked and roasted along with the corn for a nice, summery salsa. The poblano peppers were also roasted, and I’ll soon peel them for chile rellenos later this week.

One thing I noted is that the locally grown peppers tend to be milder than what I’d probably find in Texas. Perhaps it’s the generally cooler temperatures in New Jersey that reduce the heat, but the peppers still have a very nice flavor.

I remember when I first moved here, and how depressing it was because I couldn’t even find a Dr Pepper, much less any Tex-Mex staples. The only tortillas I could find back then — corn or flour — were in the refrigerator case, if you can believe it. And I’m still meeting New Jerseyans who don’t know the difference, like when you’d use corn versus when you’d use flour tortillas in a recipe.

But things are slowly looking up here. Not only can I now find a Dr Pepper, but there’s also Shiner beer, a more-than-just-passable Mexican restaurant within easy driving distance, and enough local produce to keep me happy in my own kitchen.

Who knows, maybe New Jersey will soon start importing Big Red and this state will finally be civilized!

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13 Comments

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  1. I don;t know the occasions for flour vs corn tortillas either!

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  2. Ugh, Aaron. You need a refresher.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The availability of all the great Mexican cheeses also thrills me!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good news for NJ! When I lived in upstate NY in mid-’80s, the “Mexican-food shelf” was stocked with, among a few other things, tortillas in a can. It was horrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am impressed how y’all work so hard for the Tex-Mex taste, with all the grilling and husking and such. We just go to a restaurant to eat a lot of the things you mention, because it’s so easy, there being so many restaurants. We do make beans, enchiladas, tacos, etc, at home. Maybe y’all could teach a Tex-Mex cooking class up there!

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  6. See what happens when you let those people cross the border! ; )
    Oh, Big Red is not a beer where I live.

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    • I know what you mean, but Big Red isn’t a beer. It’s a soda with a sort of bubblegum taste that a lot of people find disgusting, but what can I say … when you gotta have one, you gotta have one. The store finder on the Big Red website lies, too, because it claims it can be purchased at my local Walmart, but that’s just not true.

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  7. Abt. 8 years ago, I took my sis in law , Guadalupe from TX, to a Mexican grocery in Red Bank, she was nicely surprised at the available goods, produce and freshly baked goodies.

    Liked by 1 person

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