Sampling the wares at the Downtown Growers Market
By Ari LeVaux
The Albuquerque Downtown Growers Market—part veggie stand, folk festival, freak show, coffee shop, art and craft expo and group picnic—is in full swing. It rages, in a very family friendly way, every Saturday morning from 7 a.m. ‘til noon.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
When you roll in depends on what you’re looking for, and to a lesser extent how your Friday night went. If you want a cup of coffee and a baked good with which to watch the band from a shaded spot while the cobwebs clear, a midmorning arrival will do. If you want to wheel and deal and get three for the price of two, show up at the end of market as the vendors are breaking it down. You might find them ready to give you a deal on food they’d rather not pack up. If leafy greens are on your list, you’ll want to get there early so you can bring them home while it’s still cool, rather than let them sit out in the Albuquerque summer losing years off their leafy lives.
Showing up early is also highly advised if you’re there for the tamales, which have a habit of selling out. And if you aren’t there for the tamales, you probably haven’t had one.
Showing up early is also highly advised if you’re there for the tamales, which have a habit of selling out. And if you aren’t there for the tamales, you probably haven’t had one. Made by Mary Benevidez and her daughter Tara, of Santa Domingo Pueblo, these California burrito-sized beauties have become a necessity to many market regulars. When Mary and Tara didn’t show up the first week of market, an anguished, simmering panic spread with the news.
The tamales—filled with red chile pork or corn, squash and green chile—epitomize what the market is about. The chile, both red and green, is Pueblo-grown, as is the white corn in the masa. The corn is cooked with lime to remove the seed coat, a process called nixtamalization, which is also used on posole corn. The Benevidez women follow Mary’s mother’s nixtamalization protocols, but the fillings are their own creations.
In Albuquerque, what could embody the soul of a farmers market more than Pueblo-grown and crafted tamales, of a recipe curated by generations of native tamaleras? The red chile pork are usually the first to go. There is slightly more leeway in your arrival time if it’s a veggie tamale you seek.
This early in the season, the corn and squash that fill the veggie tamales are store-bought. But as the growing season continues, the tamales will get a more local boost: Pueblo-grown squash and corn from Schwebach farm in Moriarty, and some from East Mountain Organic Farms, at the northeast corner of the market.
You can’t miss the East Mountain Organic Farms booth this time of year, loaded as it is with lipstick-red radishes, so sweet they practically taste like candy. They also sell some of the most important ingredients of a well-stocked kitchen: garlic and onion powders, homegrown and processed. Those savory powders pack more flavor than MSG on steroids.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Another Eastside treat worth a dabble is the goat milk cheese from Old Windmill Dairy in Estancia. The fig chèvre tastes like cheesecake, the cave-aged goat cheddar is mild and creamy. Neither bear even a hint of the gamey flavors many expect from goat cheese.
Down the aisle from Old Windmill is a new hot food stall worth adding to your market routine, assuming you’re not stuffed silly with tamales: an outfit called Loco Roots, which sells “Sustain-a-Bowls,” which are filled with either Estancia pinto beans or Colorado-grown quinoa, topped with greens from the market and local, organic red or green chile. On a recent Saturday, they featured a cold quinoa salad special with local kale, spinach, chard and garlic scapes in balsamic vinaigrette. It was the kind of food to be eaten slowly, chewed deliberately. It was dense with flavor and goodness.
As the season unfolds, the radishes, turnips and kohlrabi of today will phase into tomatoes, corn, squash and other joys of summer. They’ll peek out at you as you bite into tamales, Sustain-a-Bowls and other foods made from these local ingredients. Come early, come often, stay late or rush home with your greens and come back. Markets like this are worth planning your life around.
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