Celebrating Mexican independence with chiles en nogada

If there is one dish that represents Dia de la Independencia in Mexico, it is Chiles en Nogada, blistered, peeled poblano chiles filled with seasoned meat, fruit and nuts, smothered with a sauce of cream and walnuts, and garnished with pomegranate seeds. The green chile, white sauce and red seeds represent the three colors of the Mexican flag and cry out ¡Viva México! to every patriotic — and hungry — mexicano.

When I bought range-fed ground beef this morning, I questioned Marta and Ana at the local carnicería — the butcher shop — asking how they make Chiles en Nogada. They both agreed on charring the tomatoes and onion, a step I have never seen in a recipe. As they are the real mexicanas, I decided to try their technique.

This dish may seem labor intensive, but it is worth every minute. Nothing compares to this in flavor combination and presentation. Prepare it over two days, if that makes it easier, blistering and peeling the chiles and charring the vegetables the day before. Chiles en Nogada are served either warm or at room temperature.

Chiles en Nogada

serves 6

  • 6 poblano chiles
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) ground beef
  • 3 medium tomatoes (.75 lb./340 grams)
  • 1 medium onion (6-7 oz./220 grams)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
  • 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 grams) chopped walnuts or sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz./90 grams) raisins or other dried or candied fruit (see note)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1″ (2.5 cm.) stick cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml.) ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch dry thyme or Mexican oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml.) crema, crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml.) walnut meat
  • salt to taste
  • cilantro leaves and seeds of 1 pomegranate for garnish

Read recipe through completely once or twice. Prepare and measure/weigh all ingredients.

Soak walnuts in warm water while you prepare the other ingredients.

Blister and peel poblano chiles. Set aside.

Char tomatoes and onion on a comal, griddle or flame until slightly blackened. (See note.) Peel and halve tomatoes. Squeeze out seeds and save seeds and skin. Press peel and seeds in a sieve with the back of a spoon and save juice. Finely chop tomato and peel and chop onion.

Grind cinnamon stick and bay leaves in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender but not brown. Add beef and stir occasionally until browned, about ten minutes. Add chopped tomato, onion, spices and tomato juice. Cover pan and Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let the meat cook dry, adding water if necessary. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a blender or food processor, blend crema and drained walnuts, but don’t blend completely smooth. Texture provides interest. Thin with milk or water if necessary for a soft, spoonable consistency. Salt to taste.

Most recipes call for peeling the soaked walnuts first, but I find this too tedious. I tried, I really did. I even scrubbed the soaked nuts with a new toothbrush, trying to remove the skins. (Russ, my consummate kitchen critic, walked by and stopped short when he saw me vigorously scrubbing away. “You’re not serious?” And then, “You know, you don’t have to do this for me. I’ll like them, skins and all.” Me: I’m not doing this for you. It’s for the blog. He wisely walked on.) The skins have a slightly bitter taste, so if you have the time and inclination, by all means peel them. I can’t say I notice the taste of the skin in the sauce.

Divide meat filling among poblano chiles. Top with walnut cream sauce at the time of serving, not before. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and serve warm or at room temperature.

This year marks two hundred years of Mexican independence. On every town plaza in Mexico at midnight on Independence Eve, September 15, the cry will go up, ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! marking Mexico’s Bicentenario.

Notes:

Traditionally,candied fruits, especially biznaga, the fruit from a barrel cactus, are used in Chiles en Nogada. My two informants, Marta and Ana, use raisins, and I followed suit, knowing that biznaga is not in the stores here. Other recipes call for citron, and dried apples and pears.

To make this recipe simpler, skip the charring of the tomatoes and onions. Quarter and de-seed the tomatoes, chop both tomatoes and onion, and add to recipe as called for.

There are two schools of thought regarding chiles en nogada: whether or not the filled chiles should be covered in beaten egg and fried (a technique known as capeados). I feel that a fried egg coating interferes with the fresh tastes of chile, fruit and cream, so I recommend not frying them. Save the capeados treatment for chiles rellenos.

Chiles en Nogada are always served completely napped with sauce, never on a pool of sauce.


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22 thoughts on “Celebrating Mexican independence with chiles en nogada

  1. Nicole

    What is the serving size for this? Im hoping to make it for a spanish project at school but it has to be enough for about 30-35 people to sample.

    1. This recipe serves 6, so if you cut each chile en nogada into 6 pieces, you could serve samples to 36 people. This would give each person about one bite. I hope your sampling project turns out great!

  2. Pingback: Mexican Independence Day Chiles en Nogada and video jam: Herb Alpert vs. Tres Delincuentes « mexicocitylife

  3. Thanks for the re-ply.
    God willing we’ll be there in May 2012 and La Cruz is on our list to visit. Are you at the market year round on Sundays?
    Like you I’m more interested in the food and home life of people than all the glitz and glamour of a place. Recipes of the housewifes that are unadulterated to fit other peoples tastes attracts me.
    Que tenga buen dia. Adios.
    Clasina.

  4. Hi Kathleen. Found your blog a few months ago. We were at Paradise Village for two weeks the first two weeks of June this year. Had hoped to come over to La Cruz to meet you but didn’t make it. We shall try again next May.
    We ate Chiles en Nogada at Mama Rosa’s in Puerto Vallarta as part of the breakfast buffet menu she offers. The filling was very finely minced and she also didn’t have the egg white around it but I have read a recipe that is teached at a culinary school in Mexico City that said it has to be done with it to make it authentic?
    Regards.
    Clasina Smith.

    1. Hi Clasina,

      Chiles en Nogada can be served with or without an egg coating. The best Chiles en Nogada I have had in restaurants are without the coating, though I know some cooks think it is part of an authentic dish. Diana Kennedy, considered an authority on Mexican cooking, does not coat her chiles with egg for this recipe. If you wish, see her recipe in The Cuisines of Mexico. I hope you look me up the next time you are in our area.

  5. Lorin Johnson

    Kathleen,
    I think you introduced me to and educated me about this dish on a trip to Tonola. The chiles were delicious and the company was great.
    Lorin

  6. Pingback: Roasting, toasting, peeling and eating chiles poblano « Cooking in Mexico

  7. These look great. I’ve come late to the meat and sweet combination, but the stuffing sounds appealing. Raisins, cinnamon, and nuts. I almost thought this would be good for breaking the Yom Kippur fast until I realized the crème fraîche would make this dish a bit un-kosher. ≥^!^≤ (a bit of a long story, but husband still takes the high holidays and pesach very seriously)

    Peeling walnuts is tedious, but for my walnut ravioli I make the effort. Roasting the nut halves is a little tiny bit easier than the wet method. Boiling water on almonds works well, but then I usually give them a quick roast as well after the skins are shucked. But what I wonder about is how anyone can remove the hulls from sesame seeds!

    1. I don’t know what to suggest as a dairy substitute for the cream, but perhaps you have already come up with substitutions for Yom Kippur break-fast.
      Almonds are a breeze to peel, compared to walnuts. Maybe if they were really fresh they would peel more easily, but by the time they reach Costco, I don’t think they are the freshest walnuts anymore, and those little skins sure like to cling on. There must be mechanical means for removing sesame hulls.

      I have to admit my ignorance about Jewish holidays, so I checked with Google for the appropriate greeting: G’mar Chatima Tova, which I read means, may you be inscribed for goodness. What a nice greeting. I hope you enjoy the special traditions of this time with your husband.

  8. darlene

    Hi Kathleen
    Another wonderful looking dish to try. Is there a good way to to tell if the poblanos
    chilies that you are buying are mild? Yours looks large and plump . Long Live Mexico!

    1. My experience is that poblanos grown in the US can be very hot, while here, south of the border, they are usually mild. Every batch seems to have a hot one, but I can’t detect the heat level until I cut it open and get a whiff. Try sniffing them, but I don’t know if you will be able to tell much if they are uncut. If you can find poblanos imported from Mexico, they are most likely mild. If they are US grown, especially from Oregon or Washington, beware.

  9. Cindy Bouchard

    When I return will you teach me to cook with chiles? Both Chris and I love spice but not hot… I’m so timid with the chiles but sooooo love cooking and learning!

    Thanks for all your wonderful posts!

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