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, by 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
- 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.
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.