What is a Rista?

A rista is the long strings of chiles you see all over New Mexico (and in Cajun Country made with garlic and of course, cayenne peppers * see below) in the fall. They're pretty easy to make and several hanging around the house/office will definitely mark you as a true chile-head.

You will need about four pounds of fresh red (or just starting to turn red) chiles; New Mexico type pods are the easiest, but you can also use poblano, cayenne, tabasco or even serrano for a midget ristra. Don't use green chiles; they are too immature. A ball of light cotton string and some heavier wire or twine.

Tie clusters of 3 pods together with the cotton string by holding them by the stems and wrapping the string around 2 or three times. Loop the string under one of the chile pods and bring it up between the peppers (back to the stems). Make a half-hitch and place it over the stems and pull snuggly. Continue along the string tieing sets of three peppers (space them as 3-4" apart if you can, but further is ok). If the string gets too heavy or unwieldy then break it and start again.

Now attach the twine or wire to a rafter, door top or whatever. Make a loop in the end to keep the chiles from sliding off, then, starting at the bottom, braid the chiles around the twine. Use the twine asone strand, and braid two of the chiles around it. Keep pushing the center down to insure a tight fit and spread the chiles evenly around the center.

You can make a wreath from smaller pods by braiding around a straight coat hanger, then bending it in a circle. If possible hang the ristra in direct sun where there is good air circulation. I've got mine hung from the east eves. You may have to bring them in at night or if the weather gets damp. The chiles will mold or rot if it's too damp, or if they don't dry evenly or fast enough.

From Chile-Heads (With CAJUN NOTES in this color)

Garlic has also been inter-wolven in South Louisiana ristas, but the garlic is braided as you would a girl's pigtails.

(I have also seen bayleaf "laurel" added to Cajun and Creole Ristas)


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Chef Emile L. Stieffel, Aurora Catering, Inc. email address: ChefEmile@CustomCatering.net
Copyright 1995 Aurora Catering, Inc. All rights reserved.
Revised: May 27, 2009.