Cultured Palate: Dishes from the American Southwest

As we expose ourselves to different cultures during our international travels, it’s easy to forget what a wealth of culinary tradition we have in our own backyard. The food scene in the American Southwest is hugely varied, representing hundreds of years of culinary innovation. From Southern California barbecue to the hot and spicy chilis that dominate the cuisine of the desert states, each region has its own unique traditions and culinary history, the combined total of which is a collection of amazing dishes, each more delicious than the next. We’ll take a look at some of the best dishes from each regional cuisine and explain how they represent the culture they hail from.

1. Navajo Frybread

Navajo frybread is an incredibly simple dish, but its versatility makes it a staple food in many different areas of the American Southwest. It was originally developed by Navajo cooks to take advantage of the meager supplies provided by the government after the tribe was forced out of its homeland and into New Mexico. Frybread is essentially just fried dough, but it can be turned into a sweet dessert with the addition of ingredients like honey, cinnamon, and sugar. It can also be used as the base of a taco or burrito and wrapped around savory ingredients like meat and veggies. It’s easy to find near reservations in Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

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2. Chile Con Queso

One of the most identifiable dishes in the Tex-Mex repertoire is chile con queso, a delicious cheese dip. Made with processed American cheese, it’s an adaptation of queso fundido, or melted soft white cheese that’s eaten with tortilla chips. Instead of using Mexican cheese, chile con queso has been adapted to include American cheese and cream cheese, with canned tomatoes and chile peppers added for spice. You can find this cheesy specialty at any Tex-Mex restaurant, and it’s a great example of how Tejanos and Mexican immigrants have changed the United States’ culinary landscape.

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3. Cobb Salad

There are many origin stories for Cobb salad, but there’s only one fact that remains consistent among the most popular origin stories: the salad was invented in southern California. Cobb salad is a popular meal, featuring tomatoes, bacon, chicken breast, chopped hard-boiled egg, avocado, and Roquefort cheese on a bed of salad greens topped with a vinaigrette dressing. This salad is an example of the market fresh, veggie-based cuisine that makes California a prime destination for foodies.

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