Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest by José Griego y Maestas and Rudolfo Anaya

I’d consider this book of short stories, Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest, one of the pivotal books of my childhood. I’ve mentioned my father and his love of reading, and there were always books around him. In his car, in his house, you name it. As well, being a very strong proponent of civil rights, human rights, and a member of the Brown Berets on the campus of the University of New Mexico, he was also a proud Hispanic who liked to promote the work of his fellow Hispanic/Latino/Chicano educators, artists and writers, and José Griego y Maestas and Rudolfo Anaya exemplify all of these.

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Cuentos is Spanish for “stories” and these particular tales will resonate with any lover of folklore and fairy tales. Many traditional elements of fairy/folk stories are present in all these short stories – the elements, God and religion, true love, unrequited love, fathers and sons, talking animals who teach a lesson, humans who can transform into animals, and witchcraft. There is a strong Roman Catholic theme running throughout the book, which mirrors the faith of the Catholic conquistadores who came from Spain in the 1500s; but the influence of the Native American tribes and their belief in the afterlife is also very present.

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The Spanish versions of the stories are wonderful because Griego y Maestas retained most of the original language as possible, as many of these tales have their origins in the oral traditions of New Mexico’s founding families, most of whom came from Spain by way of Mexico and intermarried with the Native American tribes of what is now the state of New Mexico. The stories feature many words that are old-fashioned, even archaic. but just add depth and beauty to the stories. Rudolfo Anaya, who translated the  English versions, is my favorite writer in the world, and whom I know personally, as a mentor and a friend.

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Possibly my favorite out of all 23 of these short stories is Doña Sebastiana, which tells the tale of a poor woodcutter who meets Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Death herself one night when he is eating a chicken roasted on a spit and cooked with traditional New Mexico spices. Jesus and Mary both ask to share his meal, and he turns them both down because they ignore the poor people in the world and give much to the rich. However, when Death – Doña Sebastiana, personified as a skeleton old woman in traditional Hispanic culture – shows up and asks to eat, he happily shares his food because she treats everyone equally in death. And for this, she grants him a life-changing wish.

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“Buenas noches,” the woodcutter answered, trembling at the sight of the old hag in front of him. “Who are you?” “I am Death,” Doña Sebastiana answered as she slowly got down from her cart. “Will you share your meal with me?” “I never realized Death was so thin!” the woodcutter said as he looked at the skeleton in front of him……….”No, you treat us all equally. Sit down and share my meal.” After they had finished eating the roasted chicken Doña Sebastiana was very pleased, so she told the woodcutter to ask for any favor he wished and it would be granted.

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Chicken with New Mexico spices sounded both delicious and challenging, because there are so many spices considered traditional and that are used in many recipes. Garlic and cilantro are used in numerous recipes, and of course, a dish can’t be considered truly New Mexican unless it has chile on it. So, pondering this, I decided on some grilled chicken thighs marinated in garlic and green chile sauce and baked with with roasted green chile and cheese.

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INGREDIENTS
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
1 cup green chile sauce
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
4 large Anaheim green chiles
2 cups Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, shredded

METHOD
Put the chicken pieces into two plastic bags and pour over the chile sauce.

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Add the lime juice, the fresh chopped cilantro, and the salt and pepper. Smoosh around with your hands, and leave to marinate for up to an hour.

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Heat the oven broiler and line a baking pan with foil. Lay the green chiles on the foil and roast under the broiler for 20 minutes, flipping them after 10 minutes so both sides get blistered.

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Remove from the oven and put into a sealeable plastic bag. Leave for up to 30 minutes. The skins will steam off and this makes them much easier to peel.

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Rub olive oil into your hands, like putting on lotion. Trust me on this. The oil acts as a barrier from the seeds, which, if gotten into eyes, is not at all a pleasant experience. Then, remove the stems, peel off the skins, remove the seeds, and slice the chile into strips.

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Heat the oven to 400F, and heat a stovetop grill pan at medium high heat on the stove. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and grill each chicken piece for 5 minutes per side, so those nice, black grill marks are on both sides.

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Place the chicken thighs in a baking pan, and top each one with 1-2 strips of roasted green chile.

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Sprinkle over the cheese, and bake for 30 minutes. The cheese will melt in a golden crust of deliciousness and the smoky scent of roasting green chile is truly perfume for the senses.

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Then, just eat, happily. A meal that Death herself would surely approve of.

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19 thoughts on “Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest by José Griego y Maestas and Rudolfo Anaya

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, it’s a favorite of mine, and one of my earliest memories was reading it in the back of my dad’s car and being fascinated by the illustrations. I was quite pleased with the chicken and chile, too. Aside from the roasting and peeling of the chile, it is super simple and tasty.

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  1. The chicken looks so delicious! I can’t wait for fresh chili’s this summer. I’m saving this recipe for sure. 😁

    The book sounds great and the cover definitely grabs me. How awesome that you know the English translator! I noticed he has multiple books I’d like to read including one about Hollyhocks and how they came to New Mexico and a few on chupacabras which I’ve always been fascinated with. I added this one too. Thanks so much for sharing this, Vanessa. ❤ Amazing post as usual!

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    1. Thank YOU, Jen! It’s really amazing how easy this recipe is. I think you could use any type of green chili pepper, including poblanos or even jalapenos. And yes, Rodolfo is a friend and mentor to me. He’s such a wonderful writer and person. I actually have the hollyhock book and several of his other children’s books. But the beauty of his writing is that it’s accessible for all ages.

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      1. Well, being a fan of chile’s of all types, I don’t mind the whole roasting bit. Half of the time, I have so many peppers from the garden that I end up dehydrating a bunch to make homemade chile powder out of it. Either that, or pickling them, or making hot sauce…you get the picture. Lol

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    1. Thank you, yeah my dad was pretty cool. Major bookworm just like me. The Woodcutter asks for the power to heal people and Death grants it, but with the caveat that if she is standing at the foot of the bed he can heal that person and is she standing at the head, that person is Marked for Death and there’s nothing he can do. So course he goes into the world and heals and is offered a huge sum of money to heal someone whom Death has marked, so he turns the bed literally, and heals the young lady. So course of Death takes him for her own. It’s really a great story and I’ve read different iterations of it in so many different folklore and fairytale editions throughout many cultures.

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      1. I was halfway tempted to tell you that you needed to read the book to find the ending out, but I know you have a ton of other books you’re reading, so I took pity on you. Also you’re very busy with your endeavors in writing sequels to Star Wars, so it would be very true of me to add to your reading burdens. LOL! By the way, I actually have to say I’m really enjoying your Star Wars sequels, and the fact that you wrote them when you were 12 is impressive, because you have a good grasp of language.

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      2. Well, thank you for having pity on my poor soul. Also, thank you for your kind words on my fan fiction!! I read. A LOT. Even when I was 12 that’s pretty much all I did…. ALL THE TIME!! I always wanted to be a writer… But, I read so much that everything I wrote sounded like an author I had read… I couldn’t seem to find my own voice with so many else’ swimming around in my head… So, I just blog and talk about their words now!! Ha ha!! 💖💖

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