Come September in Mexico, the time is right for a food pilgrimage to the city of Puebla for Chiles en Nogada.
Trying to find the best food in Mexico is like trying to find the best beer in Germany or the best tea in China. Impossible, you say? Well, Chiles en Nogada is a poblano pepper stuffed with a mix of ground beef and pork, nuts, and fruit, including apple, pear, peach, and plantain (a banana for cooking). Then it is drenched in a walnut sauce and sprinkled with parsley and pomegranate. Distinct flavors are represented – spicy, sweet, savory. The colors of Chiles en Nogada – the white walnut sauce, the red pomegranate, and the green parsley – correspond to the Mexican flag.
There are two reasons to go in September. First, the pomegranate used in Chiles en Nogada is in season. Second, September is el mes patrio, the month of Mexican independence. September 16th was when the war for independence started in 1810. On this day, every city in Mexico reenacts el grito de independencia, the cry of independence made by Miguel Hidalgo that began the struggle.
Chiles en Nogada was invented in Puebla, a few hours east of Mexico City. Knock-off versions of the dish can be found throughout Mexico, throughout the year, but Puebla during September is the spot. Puebla is a historic, easily navigable town in the shadow of some of the biggest volcanoes in Mexico, including the recently re-active Popocatépetl. And, most importantly, Puebla is a paradise for food. It is famous for its own molé – molé poblano, all the other great molés, and special candies like camotes (sweet potato candy) and mueganos.
On August 28, 1828, nuns in Puebla wanted to create a dish to honor Agustin de Iturbide, the newly self-proclaimed emperor of Mexico and military commander in the war. He was passing through Puebla on his way to Veracruz to sign the treaty that would give Mexico its independence.
The nuns put their heads together to create something that honors Mexico, uses in-season ingredients, and of course is delicious. Luckily for the emperor and all of us, they came up with Chiles en Nogada.
Recipe: Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en Nogada isn’t cheap for a reason; it’s quite hard to make, especially the nogada (walnut sauce), which requires you to peel every little walnut by hand. It will turn your hands black; don’t be scared. This recipe comes from my suegra Lucero. Gracias Lucero, y feliz dia de madres.
-6 large poblano peppers
-1 peeled pomegranate
-½ kg. ground pork and beef
-½ chopped onion
-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
-2 peeled and chopped peaches
-1 peeled and chopped apple
-½ bar of acitron (a Mexican candy)
-¼ cup pine nuts
-¼ cup raisins
-¼ cup chopped almonds
-Salt, pepper, chicken stock, and vegetable oil to taste
1.) Fry onion and garlic in oil. Mix meat, salt, pepper, and chicken stock, fry until cooked and put in the pureed tomato.
2.) When it’s well mixed, add fruit (apple, peach, plantain) and cook. Add pine nuts, almonds, raisins, and acitron. Mix and cook for 12 minutes. Check the mixture until it’s almost dry (all the liquid is gone), and put it aside.
3.) Grill the peppers in a comal (Mexican griddle) until they are well grilled on all sides. Put them in a plastic bag with a cloth for around 30 minutes so they are easier to peel. Peel them, take out the insides, wash them, and boil them for a few minutes in water with salt and a few teaspoons of vinegar, chicken stock, and onion. Strain and fill with meat.
-250 gr. peeled Castilla walnuts
-2 cups milk
-100 gm. ranchero cheese or 100 gr. cream cheese
-1-½ spoons of sugar
-Salt to taste
1.) In a blender mix walnuts with milk, cream cheese or ranchero cheese, sugar, and salt until you get a thick sauce.
2.) Put the filled pepper on a plate and cover it with nut sauce and sprinkle on pomegranate seeds and parsley.
Ted Campbell left the US ten years ago to pursue a life of adventure, first in Asia and now Latin America. He writes about travel, music, culture, food, and mountain biking. He lives in Mexico, travels as much as he can, and writes a blog called No Hay Bronca.
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