Chiles en Nogada à la Française for Thanksgiving

While many in our birth country were stuffing turkeys for Thanksgiving, I was stuffing poblano chiles for my interpretation of a traditional Mexican dish, Chiles en Nogada. This colorful dish, created in Puebla, Mexico, to honor one of the last leaders of revolt against Spanish rule, features the colors of the Mexican flag: green poblano chiles, white cream sauce with walnuts, and red pomegranate seeds as a garnish, and is as flavorful as it is attractive.

If you look up this recipe on line or in a Mexican cookbook, you will see that up to fourteen or more different  ingredients may be used for the  meat component, and a sauce that may call for farmer’s cheese, sugar or salt, white bread, Maggi seasoning, Worcestershire Sauce or cinnamon. I make a much more simple version, but one that is delicious nonetheless, mostly due to the inclusion of Duxelles (pronounced dook-sehl), a French preparation of mushrooms.

With one foot in our birth country and the other in our adopted home of Mexico, I often fuse the best of both countries in the kitchen. On this day, France makes a culinary appearance also, which is not entirely inappropriate, as France had its place in the history of Mexico with its turn at an unsuccessful rule by placing the unfortunate Emperor Maximilian on the Mexican throne.

Chiles en Nogada are traditionally stuffed with picadillo, stewed and shredded pork or beef to which dried or fresh fruit is added. Instead of the picadillo mixture, I used ground chuck combined with duxelles. The creamy walnut sauce, also greatly simplified,  remains in the recipe to provide the white of the Mexican flag and a sweet coolness.

For a vegetarian version of this dish, substitute well seasoned, cooked beans, such as black beans or pinto beans, for the ground meat. Remember, there are no rules in cooking; substitute whatever appeals to you.

This dish has several components and can be started the day before to make the preparation easier. Day one: make duxelles and walnut cream sauce. Day two: roast and peel chiles; combine duxelles with cooked, ground chuck and stuff chiles.

Duxelles

1 lb. (500 grams) mushrooms
2 cups loosely packed parsely
1/4 cup chopped onion or shallot
1/4  cup (50 ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon dry sherry (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Read the recipe through completely at least once; twice is better. Assemble, weigh and measure out all ingredients. This is called “mis en place” and will make all your cooking so much easier and organized.

Using a food processor, pulse mushrooms and parsley in two batches until finely chopped.

Heat pan and add olive oil. Add mushroom/parsley mixture and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes. The mushrooms will exude liquid as they cook, and then cook to an almost dry state. The idea is to cook the mixture until almost dry but not to brown.

Add sherry (or port or dry red wine), if using. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cool and refrigerate if making the day before. If you have any leftover, duxelles adds a savory flavor to soups, stews, omelet filling, pizza topping — anything to which you want to add the fifth taste,

umami.

Ground Meat

8 oz. (1/2 kilo) ground chuck
1/4 cup (50 ml.)olive oil
the prepared duxelles
1/4 cup (50 ml.)  cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Saute meat in oil. When meat is completely cooked, stir in duxelles. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Walnut Cream Sauce

3/4 cup  (150 ml.) sweet cream or sour cream
6 tablespoons (42 grams) walnut pieces
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Using food processor, blend  cream, walnuts and cinnamon until mostly smooth. Little pieces of nut are fine — they will lend an element of texture. Chill.

Diana Kennedy, in her book, The Cuisines of Mexico, adds a note to soak the walnut pieces overnight in water if you can not use very fresh nuts. As few of us have access to nuts not long off the tree, we may want to try soaking them for a softer nut texture. She also says that there is no substitute for poblano chiles, but I think you could use bell peppers. Of course, the flavor would not be the same, but they would still be tasty.

Roast Poblano Chiles

Roast 4-6 poblano chiles using a gas burner, a gas or charcoal grill or a broiler. Using tongs, place the chiles near the heat source, turning as the skins char and blacken. Remove from heat when skins are mostly blackened and blistered. Don’t be concerned if not every part is blackened — some green spots are OK.

As chiles are removed from heat, place in a paper bag, or dish covered with paper towels, to let the chiles steam for 10 minutes to loosen the blistered skin. When cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife to scrape the blackened skin off the chiles. It isn’t essential to remove every single piece of charred skin. Little remaining bits are OK. If you have sensitive skin, use gloves, as chiles may burn  your hands if they are extra hot. Generally, poblanos are a mild chile with a moderate heat level. Blistered poblano chiles are also used to make

Chiles Rellenos.

Split chiles open on one side, pulling out seeds. You may need to use a knife or kitchen shears to cut out the seed attachment, being careful not to tear the chile.

Assembly

Spoon hot meat mixture into room temperature chiles. Arrange on plate and top with cold walnut cream. For the red garnish, I used diced oil-packed dried tomatoes. You could also use diced fresh red pepper. Or even pomegranate seeds if you can find them.

Chiles en Nogada are traditionally served at room temperature or hot. If they have cooled a bit during the stuffing and you want to serve them hot, you can re-heat in the oven in a covered dish. Don’t garnish with walnut cream until they are out of the oven.

A green salad with lime vinaigrette, sweet potato purée with sage and olive oil, and pumpkin flan rounded out our Thanksgiving dinner, for which we were truly grateful.


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