Hidden in Plain Sight

A Native American culinary gem in the heart of Albuquerque

Albuquerque’s Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC) can be rightly called the heart of Native American activity in the city. Its restaurant, the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, provides much of that pulse. Remarkably, though, the restaurant remains unknown to many who seek out compelling food experiences. It’s time to change that. This is the most dynamic but traditionally grounded Native American cooking in the state. In the last couple of years, executive director Travis Suazo, of Acoma, Laguna, and Taos Pueblo heritage, has brought in a new food-and-beverage manager, Boris Revilla, along with chef Michael Giese, to push the restaurant’s cooking in a more contemporary “Native fusion” direction.

The Pueblo Harvest Cafe sits off one of the IPCC’s main foyers, divided from it by a massive fireplace of stacked stone. Hefty beams, or vigas, hold the ceiling high, and large windows overlook the patio. The staff is well trained, and prices on the all-day and early-evening menus fall in the family-friendly range. It’s common to see a mix of professionals from nearby offices, a gathering of Pueblo governors and other area politicos, vacationing families, and a scattering of in-the-know eaters from across town—and around the globe.

Albuquerque patrons now typically vote the Pueblo Harvest’s frybread and Indian tacos the city’s best. But when chef Giese arrived last year, he asked the kitchen staff if they’d serve the existing cafe’s frybread to their family or friends. They said no, because the flour wasn’t Blue Bird, the brand produced by the Cortez Milling Company, of Colorado. Without this particular soft wheat flour, frybread just can’t develop its essential and distinctive characteristics of being simultaneously flaky, chewy, and crispy. The cafe now uses so much Blue Bird that the IPCC’s Shumak’olo:wa gift shop recycles and sells the cotton sacks.

The menu includes favorite Pueblo stews, beans, and chiles, and even blue-corn chackewe, a traditional breakfast porridge. Ovenbread and fruit pies are baked daily for the restaurant and sold at a takeaway bakery counter. Try the green-chile–cheese ovenbread with piñon butter. The menu also incorporates Native ingredients from farther afield, such as wild rice and bison.

A wondrous, almost gut-busting lunch po’ boy sandwich starts with an airy baguette that is then piled high with carne adovada (pork braised in a mild red-chile sauce), coleslaw, shaved red onions, cilantro, and a finishing crumble of queso fresco. An order of dusky onion rings coated in blue corn towers high on the plate, and soar in taste as well. The complex preparation involves first blanching the onions so that their flavor won’t dominate the subtler blue-corn-and-spice coating. Plenty of dishes feature seasonal greens and fresh vegetables, with lots of choices for both vegetarian and gluten-free eaters. Beer, wine, and cocktails are available at lunch and dinner. The cafe serves wines from the nearby Casa Rodeña Winery.

Dinners, served after 4 p.m., take a more elegant turn. Expect such dishes such char-grilled elk tenderloin with blackberry and sage sauce, or sunflower-seed–crusted rack of New Mexico lamb with mint pesto and smoked tomato demi-glace. The cedar-planked New Mexico rainbow trout is one of the menu’s most eye-catching dishes (recipe on p. 60).
To accompany it, food and beverage director Revilla recommends the Serenade, a floral white made mostly from Riesling grapes with a bit of Gewürztraminer for spice—or the Meritage, a Bordeaux-style blend of predominantly merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon.

The Pueblo Harvest espouses a philosophy of using locally acquired and  organic ingredients whenever possible. While they push forward in new directions, they remain mindful of staying grounded strongly in Pueblo culture. Sous chef Burt Wilson, of Diné and Zuni heritage, has been in the kitchen for more than a decade, and is involved in every aspect of recipe development and food preparation.

“I feel honored to be at the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, where my input is respected,” says Wilson. “I get to be creative, resourceful, and represent my native people. Resourcefulness describes Pueblo and all Native peoples. Pueblo cooking is somewhat restricted by what is or was available. Fry bread, for example, is an invention of what was provided to our people when the U.S. government rationed our supplies.

“Here, I get freedom to explore new dishes, but I love that we can celebrate Pueblo people, the sense of family, through the Pueblo Feast, our classic combination of corn, bean, squash, and chile preparations, that you can sample here at lunch or dinner.” He goes on to tell me that, in Zuni, feasts are not celebrated in honor of saints, as in other Pueblos, but rather always honor family.

Pizza and Musical Pizzazz

Now in its third season, Party on the Patio has become a signature Pueblo Harvest event that takes place from April through the beginning of November. In late afternoon on each Friday and Saturday and every other Thursday, local musicians in a wide range of genres take the stage on the shaded terraces. This month’s calendar embraces reggae, blues, jazz, Americana, classic rock, Latin fusion, and Afro-Colombian performers. The multiculti crowd ranges in age from tiny tots to those who first shook a pelvis with Elvis. A reasonable admission fee of $7 includes all you can eat of pizzas baked in an horno oven. Try the not-too-sweet prickly-pear margarita, whipped up from syrup made in-house—or the cucumber-chile version, made with a top tequila muddled with fresh vegetables. You can make this one at home, too, with the cafe’s recipe (on p. 61).

One of the team’s most exciting plans is to organize a Native American farmers’ market on the property. Their aim is to help growers with such details as organic certification, liability insurance, and general business practices.

Pueblo Harvest Cafe 2401 12th St. NW Albuquerque; (505) 724-3510; indianpueblo.com/puebloharvestcafe

A Hearty Serving of Heritage

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center serves as a gateway to the 19 New Mexico Pueblos, which collectively operate the facility. A stop here offers an overview of the Puebloan past and demonstrates the living, thriving contemporary culture of today.

The IPCC helps visitors better appreciate what can be experienced at the Pueblos themselves, from Taos in the north, to Zuni at the state’s far western border. It offers an array of museum exhibitions; Pueblo House, an interactive children’s museum; and related educational programs.

Decades ago the IPCC began a mural series, which now includes large-scale works by Helen Hardin, Pablita Velarde, Charles Lovato, and other noted artists.

Activities include history lectures, films, dance performances, a kids’ garden of heritage plants, a summer camp, gourd painting, and classes in horno baking for adults.

The Albuquerque Indian School sat for some 100 years on these grounds just north of I-40, on the city’s west side. During the school’s last decades, the IPCC was built on the campus. After the school closed, in 1982, the entire property was transferred into a trust for the 19 New Mexico Pueblos. Most of the old school buildings were bulldozed, although one distinctive structure will soon find new life as the Native American Community Academy, a school for grades 6 through 12. The property’s master plan includes more office and retail space, some of which will accommodate pedestrian-friendly businesses of value to the nearby residential neighborhood, such as a grocery store and more dining spots.

Today, the IPCC campus includes two relatively new, attractively designed Bureau of Indian Affairs buildings, as well as for-profit joint Pueblo enterprises that included a hotel and travel center, and—in the Cultural Center itself—the Shumak’olo:wa Gift Shop and Pueblo Harvest Cafe.

Breakfast Chackewe with Carne Adovada and Eggs

Blue-corn porridge dates back centuries as a nourishing New Mexican meal, and remains particularly popular today in the Pueblos, where it is most often a breakfast dish.
Yield Serves 4

Ingredients

6 cups water
2 cups fine-ground blue cornmeal
¾ teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil or sunflower oil
4 large eggs
Salt and pepper
Carne adovada, warmed (see recipe at bit.ly/CarneAdovada)
Shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, or a combination
Chopped tomatoes

Directions

In large saucepan, bring water to boil over high heat. Pour in cornmeal slowly, stirring as you go. When cornmeal is incorporated, add salt and turn heat down until just an occasional bubble breaks around edge of mixture. Stir regularly until thickened into cream-of-wheat-type porridge, 10 to 15 minutes. Cover porridge to keep warm while you prepare eggs.

Pour thin film of oil into large skillet and warm over medium heat. Crack eggs into skillet, side by side. Salt and generously pepper eggs immediately. Fry eggs 1 minute, then, with spatula, gently turn over each egg, keeping yolk unbroken. Cook about 1 minute more, until whites are just cooked through and yolks are still a bit runny.

Spoon chackewe into 4 large, shallow bowls. Ladle about ½ cup carne adovada over center of each bowl, then top each with an egg. Garnish with a scattering of cheese and tomatoes and serve right away.

Cedar-Planked Bacon-Wrapped Rainbow Trout with Crab Stuffing, Red Potato Mash, and Roasted Corn, Black Bean, and Basil Salsa

Cooking trout or other fish on a wood plank in a covered gas or charcoal grill is one of the most dramatic ways to prepare it. It’s easy, too, because you don’t have to turn or otherwise worry about moving the fish.
Yield Serves 4

Ingredients

4 cedar cooking planks, at least ¹/³ inch thick, soaked in water at least 30 minutes (look for planks that are thicker than roof shingles)

Crab Stuffing
1 pound cooked lump crabmeat, drained
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons red onion, minced
2 tablespoons red bell pepper, minced
2 tablespoons green bell pepper, minced
Zest and juice of ½ large lemon
Salt and pepper

Trout
4 whole boned rainbow trout, about 12 ounces each
Salt and pepper
4 thin slices bacon

Directions

Fire up a grill to medium-high heat (3 seconds with the hand test: place a hand a couple of inches above the cooking grate and count the number of seconds until the heat forces you to pull away). Have a spray bottle of water handy.

Combine stuffing ingredients in medium bowl. Mix well.

Sprinkle inside of each trout with salt and pepper. Drain cedar planks and place on 1 or 2 baking sheets. Arrange a trout on each plank. Spoon an equal portion of stuffing inside cavity of each trout. Some stuffing will spill out; slide piece of bacon under each trout and wrap around to help secure stuffing.

Place planked trout (not on baking sheets) on grill and close cover to hold in smoke from smoldering planks. Cook 7 to 8 minutes. You should see a light plume of smoke rising from the grill during most of this time. If a billowing dark cloud emerges, or you see any other sign that planks are burning instead of simply smoking, carefully open grill and douse any flames with spray bottle.

Turn off grill if using gas, or close vents of a charcoal grill, and let trout sit in covered grill another 7 to 8 minutes. Trout are done when bacon is lightly crispy, stuffing is warm, and fish flakes.

Use washable heatproof mitts to remove planked trout from grill. Place each hot plank on larger, heatproof plate. Spoon large mound of mashed potatoes under head of each trout, then spoon salsa over center of fish. Serve right away.

Red Potato Mash

The Pueblo Harvest Cafe makes this chunky mash, in particular to accompany its planked trout.
Yield Serve 4

Ingredients

2 pounds waxy red potatoes (such as Red Bliss), scrubbed but unpeeled, cut in 1-inch chunks
1½ tablespoons salt
Water
¾ cup heavy cream, warmed
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, softened
White pepper and additional salt (optional)

Directions

In large pan, combine potatoes with 1½ tablespoons salt and water to cover by at least 1 inch. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook until quite tender (15 to 20 minutes). When done, exteriors of potatoes should be crumbly, almost dissolving in spots.

When potatoes are ready, drain, then return them to hot pan, cover with a clean folded dishtowel, and place pan lid over towel. The towel will absorb steam, making potatoes drier. Let potatoes sit covered about 5 minutes. While potatoes are still very hot, mash in pan, keeping some rough texture.

Stir warm cream into potatoes, then mix in butter 2 tablespoons at a time. Season generously with pepper and, if you wish, with extra salt. Keep covered and warm.

Roasted Corn, Black Bean, and Basil Salsa

This chunky salsa brightens the plank-cooked trout, but can also be enjoyed with warm tortillas or chips.
Yield Serves 4

Ingredients

2 teaspoons sunflower or vegetable oil
1 heaping cup roasted corn kernels (thawed frozen or home-roasted)
3 (about ½ pound) plum tomatoes, seeded, diced
2 tablespoons white onion, minced
1 cup black beans (canned or homemade), rinsed
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
Salt

Directions

In sauté pan, warm oil over medium heat. Stir in vegetables and warm mixture through about 3 minutes, enough that vegetables just begin to soften. Lightly mix in black beans and warm through. Remove from heat, stir in basil and salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cucumber-Chile Margarita

When the summer heat’s on, this quencher, adapted from the Pueblo Harvest Cafe’s cocktail menu, makes one fine refreshment.
Yield Makes 4

Ingredients

2 teaspoons ground, dried New Mexico red chile
1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher salt
2 large limes
11 to 12-ounce English cucumber
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh jalapeño, minced, or more to taste
½ cup (4 ounces) simple syrup
1 cup (8 ounces) premium silver tequila, such as Patrón
Ice cubes
4 lime wedges or slices (optional)

Directions

On a saucer, stir together dried chile and salt. Slice limes in half and rub 1 of the halves around rims of 4 cocktail glasses. Dunk glasses in chile salt to coat rims. Squeeze lime halves into small pitcher. Halve cucumber and cut 4 thin rounds from its center to garnish glasses. Peel remaining cucumber halves and chop in a dozen or so chunks. Place cucumber chunks, jalapeño, and simple syrup in blender and purée. Pour liquid into pitcher and add tequila.

Half-fill glasses with ice. Pour margarita mixture into glasses. Garnish with cucumber rounds and, if you wish, lime wedges. Serve.