Chiles en nogada with fresh fruit

If you have missed me, I’ve missed you, too, but it’s just been too hot to be in the kitchen this summer. El Día de la Independencia, September 16, brought me back from the brink of forgetting that I even have a food blog. Chiles en nogada, the traditional dish served for Mexican Independence Day, helped reacquaint me with mi cocina mexicana.

A year ago, I featured Chiles en Nogada the way they are traditionally made in Mexico — with dried fruit. For something different, this recipe features fresh fruit instead of dried, with a golden delicious apple and a sweet, juicy peach. I think plums and pears would be great in this, also. With all the beautiful fruit in the markets this month, the possibilities are endless.

My taster-in-residence says these chiles en nogada are delicious, but for a real test, he would need to taste them side by side with the dried fruit version. At least that’s what I think he said between mouthfuls of stuffed poblano. His sly smile means he really wants me to make more, with either dried or fresh fruit. He’s not particular.

Chiles en nogada are usually garnished with pomegranate seeds, something hard to come by in our little town. I substituted an unusual fruit, Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa), that grows in our yard. Its color replicates the pomegranate seeds, but its flavor resembles a sweet cranberry. If you are in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and walk along the Marina Riviera Nayarit, you will see hundreds of Natal plum bushes lining the walk-way, bright with aromatic white flours and red, little plum-like fruit.

The word nogada is Spanish for “sauce of pounded walnuts”, according to Cassell’s Spanish Dictionary. The creamy, white walnut sauce adds a mellowness all of its own. Don’t bother trying to peel the walnuts, as many recipes recommend. It is too tedious a chore and really not necessary.

Chiles en Nogada with Fresh Fruit
  • 6 poblano chiles
  • 3 medium tomatoes (.75 lb./340 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (6-7 oz./220 grams), medium dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) ground beef
  • 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 grams) finely chopped walnuts or sliced almonds
  • 1 apple, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 peach, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml.) ground cinnamon
  •  1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml.) crema (Mexican sour cream), crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml.) walnut meat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)
  1. Roast and peel poblano chiles. Carefully slit down center and remove seeds, keeping chile intact. Set aside.
  2. Roast and peel tomatoes. Squeeze out juice, reserving the liquid. Finely chop tomatoes. Set aside.
  3. Saute onion and garlic  in a tablespoon of olive oil until tender.
  4. Add ground meat and cook until no longer pink.
  5. Add tomatoes, 1/4 cup walnuts (or almonds), fruit, bay leaves, cinnamon, oregano, salt and pepper and simmer for ten minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. Do not allow to cook dry. Add reserved tomato juice or water to maintain moisture if needed.
  6. Remove bay leaves.
  7. To make the sauce, combine crema or sour cream and 3/4 cups walnuts in blender until smooth. Add a little milk if it is too thick. Salt to taste.
  8. Generously fill chiles with meat mixture, spoon walnut sauce over top, and garnish with pomegranate seeds or any red colored fruit, chopped.
  9. Serve hot, cold or room temperature.

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Mole Verde con Pollo for Cinco de Mayo

Mole Verde con Pollo marks a milestone for me, as I have never had a recipe for chicken on this blog before, and I have not eaten chicken in over ten years. Until now. I could not bring myself to eat anything that had been raised in cramped cages, denied sunshine and fed who knows what.  A local reader, knowing of my chicken hang-up, told me that the same store where I buy range-fed beef also carries chickens from a local ranch. Several years ago, when I asked about chicken at this store, they could not tell me it was supplied locally. It seems things have changed, so chicken is back on our menu. Russ is glad.

With fortuitous timing, another reader, Cecil, sent me her grandmother’s recipe for Mole Verde con Pollo. Compared to most, this mole (MOH-lay, with an accent on the first syllable), is easy to make, having fewer ingredients, and it has a lighter taste. The dark moles can be heavy. This is not to say they aren’t wonderful, but they are fairly intense. Mole verde is less spicy but with its own notes of pumpkin seeds, tomatillos and epazote. Russ says he’ll eat it as often as I make it.

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There are many different types of moles, spanning a rainbow of colors: yellow, red, black, green, plus pipián and almendrado. They all contain chiles, but they don’t all use chocolate. Mole Poblano, a dark mole from Puebla, does include chocolate. Mole Verde does not. I think you will like how easy it is to prepare and its fresh, light flavor. It’s what we are having for Cinco de Mayo, an almost non-event in Mexico, but celebrated big time by the grocery stores in the U.S.

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Pumpkin seeds — pepitas — are a common snack in Mexico. You can buy them raw or already toasted and salted. What we think of as pumpkins in the U.S. and Canada are seldom seen in Mexico. (And that means no jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween in Mexico, either.)  Pepitas are really squash seeds. For this recipe, start with raw seeds, pepitas or pumpkin seeds, and toast them lightly until just starting to brown.

Unless you are all fired up about using your molcajete, pulverize the cooled, toasted pumpkin seeds in a coffee grinder. Wipe out any coffee residue first. Or better yet, keep a coffee grinder dedicated to spice and seed grinding.

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Mole Verde con Pollo

  • 1 large chicken, cut into pieces and simmered in 1 quart (1 liter) water until tender
  • 3/4 cup (100 grams/3.5 oz.) ground toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 8 medium-size tomatillos, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 4 serrano chiles, seeded or not, according to taste (seeds are the hottest part of chiles)
  • 4 poblano chiles, skinned, seeded and chopped (see link below)
  • 4 romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
  • 3 sprigs cilantro, chopped
  • 3 sprigs epazote or parsley, chopped
  • 3 cups (700 ml.) chicken stock, strained, from cooking the chicken
  • 1 tablespoon (20 ml.) vegetable oil
  • salt to taste
  1. In a medium sized pot, simmer tomatillos, onion, garlic, serranos and 2 cups of chicken broth for 5 minutes, or until the tomatillos are soft.
  2. Pour tomatillo mixture into a blender jug and add poblanos and lettuce. Puree until smooth.  (Hold lid on firmly with a dish towel to prevent a hot explosion of liquid.)
  3. Add ground pumpkin seeds, cilantro and epazote and puree again until smooth, stirring seeds into mixture if necessary.
  4. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot.
  5. Pour blender contents into the pot while stirring, and stir in remaining one cup of broth.
  6. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning on the bottom. Salt to taste.
  7. Ladle a generous spoonful of mole into soup bowls, add a piece of cooked chicken, and spoon more mole over chicken.
  8. Serve with rice or warm corn tortillas.

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Torta de Garbanzo for Lent

Lent has arrived in the Catholic world, Mexico included. This period of time marks the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, and many Mexicans observe Lent by not eating meat and preparing certain dishes seen only at this time. I am not Catholic, but I appreciate Lent as a time to try different foods and recipes. This is the only time empanadas filled with tuna fish and canned peas make their appearance in the bakery departments of the big supermarkets. When we first tried this — and obviously we will try just about anything — we weren’t so sure about the taste combination, but now Russ and I look for this odd snack when we go grocery shopping during the days and weeks leading up to Easter. Torta de Garbanzo is another unusual Lenten dish with sweetened, ground beans, more reminiscent of an Asian sweetmeat than something you would find in a Mexican cookbook.

During our travels years ago, we visited friends in Sayula, Jalisco. Antonia and José Ojeda welcomed us warmly and fed us well. Antonia’s six-year old granddaughter was the young girl I mentioned in yesterday’s review of Taco Cuervo, when I wrote about trying to make perfect tortillas. She had laughed and laughed at my dismal results. Now she had another opportunity to see me in action, and must have anticipated the entertainment I would unwittingly give her this time.

We arrived at the beginning of Lent, and Antonia, knowing of my keen interest in the local food, asked me to help her make Torta de Garbanzo. This is the kind of opportunity I dream of — working with an excellent Mexican cook in her own kitchen, making one of her recipes. Somehow, I had the presence of mind to write down the recipe as I watched and helped.

Antonia brought out her metate, the heavy, stone tablet on which corn, cocao beans, and, in this case, cooked garbanzo beans, are ground to a flour or paste. She showed me, in a few efficient moves, how to grind the beans, and I went to work. The soft garbanzo beans turned to mush in no time, but when she added the almonds and broken cinnamon bark, I felt my arms start to tire. I thought of my nice Cuisinart food processor back in my kitchen, as well as every other appliance and gadget that makes cooking easier. The burning muscles and sore knees — yes, we were on the floor working — brought me up short. Here was Antonia, my senior, making quick work of this, while I failed to grind every bit of cinnamon bark until it disappeared into the garbanzos. She had to finish the job. If her granddaughter were around, she probably got another laugh, if not a snicker, from my performance.

Today, I’m making Antonia’s Torta de Garbanzo again, but the Cusinart is doing the grinding. I’m still a wimp.

I halved Antonia’s recipe, and now after eating a slice, I wish I had made the full amount. I also decreased the sugar, using brown sugar instead of panela, the hard, unrefined cones of dark sugar that also gave me sore arms that day. And where does a gringa like me find natas, the skin formed on boiled milk that is skimmed again and again until there is enough for a recipe? I used evaporated milk and it worked, but next time I’ll make natas. Antonia would approve. Almonds were blanched and skinned, and raisins were de-stemmed — the sweet, fruity, almost purple raisins I bought at Teresa’s store here in La Cruz still had some stems attached.

Torta de Garbanzo serves 6

  • 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup natas, or evaporated milk
  • 1 egg
  • 10 blanched and skinned almonds (0r 1/2 oz. almond butter)
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • cinnamon to dust surface
  • crema (Mexican sour cream) and cajeta (dulce de leche) for garnish
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.). Generously butter an 8″ round baking dish.
  2. In food processor, puree beans, sugar, cinnamon and almonds.
  3. Add milk and egg and process until smooth.
  4. Stir in raisins.
  5. Spoon into baking dish and dust top with additional cinnamon.
  6. Bake for 25-35  minutes, or until firm.
  7. Cool for at least one hour before serving.
  8. Garnish with crema and cajeta.

Notes:

  • If you double the recipe, use a 9″ baking dish.
  • Pour boiling water over almonds to blanch. Remove from water after thirty seconds, and squeeze to pop the nut out of the skin.
  • Cajeta, also known as Dulce de Leche, is caramelized goat or cow milk. It was called for in the original recipe, but instead of adding it to the other ingredients, I spooned some over the crema when the torta was served.
  • José Ojeda is one of Mexico’s most famous knife makers. For thirteen generations, his family has been making high quality, award winning hunting and kitchen knives.

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Chile Chili con Carne

Chili con Carne with Black Beans and Poblano Chiles

I returned from the cold north land hungry for a warm bowl of chili con carne. It’s not Mexican cuisine, but sometimes we expats need familiar comfort food from home.

Chile, the picante vegetable that has its origins in the Americas, only has one correct spelling in Mexico. Aberrations like chilli and chilie occur north of the border, causing confusion to many and consternation to those like me who are sticklers for correct spelling. Chili con carne, the pot of well-seasoned beans and meat spelled with an “i”, further adds to the confusion. If we go back to the source of the word for the vegetable, to Nahuatl, the language spoken by the people of the Mexican Highlands when the Spanish arrived, we find chili. Confused? Don’t be. Just stick to the contemporary Spanish spelling for the vegetable: chile. And if it’s a pot of beans and meat: chili.

Now that the issue of spelling is out of the way, there are two more matters to discuss: whether to soak beans or not, and how to cook them. Mexican cooks don’t pre-soak beans. They just add beans to water and get on with the cooking. No soaking or draining for them. I pre-soak beans, but I’m not always organized enough to think of doing this the day before, so I use the quick-soak method, which means to bring beans and plenty of water to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave the beans to soak for one hour. Then drain and cook with fresh water.

Pre-soaked beans are thought to be less musical and more digestible. And take less time to cook. I’m all for anything that takes less time and fuel. North of the border, kidney beans are preferred for chili con carne, but any bean will make a tasty chili. Today, I’m using a combination of organic black and flor de mayo beans.

Mexican cocineras use their trusty aluminum pots or clay pots for cooking beans. Earthenware clay pots absorb the odors of the foods for which they are used, so savvy mexicanas dedicate one clay pot to beans, another for chicken, one pot just for chocolate, and so on.

Lately, my love affair with the clay pot has waned, and I’ve been using the pressure cooker to make tender beans in thirty minutes. The beans are pre-soaked in a small pot that is then placed on a metal trivet or rack in the larger pressure cooker. Beans can also be cooked directly in the pressure cooker, but care must be taken that the pot does not cook dry and that the beans do not burn, as some pressure cookers have thin bottoms.

My pot of chili con carne contains chiles poblanos, one of my favorite chile peppers found throughout Mexico. Thick-walled, rich green in color, and not too hot, they are often used for making chiles rellenos, but can be a stand-in for bell peppers when making chili con carne. This is one of the few times they are not blistered and peeled.

Thanks to a recipe I came across in an issue of Consumer Reports years ago, I learned to add vinegar to a pot of chili con carne. This one addition makes all the difference. Maybe it does nothing more than provide a balance to the sweetness of the tomatoes, but it is an essential taste adjustment.

Chili con Carne

  • 2 tablespoons (60 ml.) olive oil
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) range-fed lean ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large poblano peppers ( or 1 large bell pepper) chopped
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) finely chopped tomatoes (or 1 16-oz. can)
  • 4 cups (1 liter) cooked beans
  • 1-2 tablespoon (30-60 ml.) chile powder, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoon comino (cumin)
  • 1 cup (8 oz/.25 liter) water
  • 1 tablespoon (60 ml.) cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • crushed tortilla chips and chopped cilantro for garnish
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat.
  2. Cook meat, onion, garlic and poblano until tender and meat is no longer pink.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients, except vinegar and salt. Simmer 30 minutes.
  4. Add vinegar and simmer 15 minutes.
  5. Salt to taste.
  6. Serve garnished with crushed tortilla chips and cilantro.

Vegetarian version: omit meat and add two more cups of cooked beans. This beany chili con frijoles was a favorite during my vegetarian years.

Bean Notes:

Large Mexican grocery stores are stocking more and more organic foods. A common organic label in our part of Mexico is Aires de Campo. They are certified by BioAgriCert America, an organization based in Bologna, Italy, which controls and monitors organic foods in the Americas, Japan and Europe. Aires de Campo sells organic beans and brown rice, as well as other foodstuffs like preserves, agave syrup and honey. My packages of black beans and flor de mayo beans (a pink bean also known as mayflower bean and nightfall bean) include the information that they are from the state of Zacatecas and certified free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and toxic residues. It is so great to have organic beans and rice available, that even if they cost a little more, I’m more than happy to support this market.

Flor de mayo is a tender bean with a delicate flavor that is not well known north of the border. South of the border, it is a common bean that is greatly preferred in the central areas of Mexico. It can be purchased on the internet from native seed companies.

It is so easy to reach for the can opener and have beans or refritos on the table in minutes, but like so many other familiar foods, canned does not compare to freshly cooked. Yes, it takes more time, but once you make a few pots, you will see how easy it is and how much better they taste.

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Huevos a la Mexicana — Scrambled Eggs with Tomato, Onion and Chile

 
A Classic Mexican Recipe

Huevos a la Mexicana is the easiest way to get an authentic Mexican breakfast on the table. We have had this simple dish at restaurants all over Mexico, usually served with warm tortillas and frijoles refritos on the side. With few ingredients, it is basically scrambled eggs cooked with the tri-color vegetables of the Mexican flag — tomatoes, onion and green chile. Regular scrambled eggs now seem a pale imitation.
 
 Huevos a la Mexicana ~ serves 2
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 serrano chile, finely chopped, or 1/2 of a large poblano chile, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2  large tomato, chopped
  • chopped cilantro for garnish
  1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and saute onion and chile until onion is translucent.
  2. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds longer, stirring.
  3. Lightly beat eggs with a pinch of salt and add to vegetables in skillet and cook until eggs are almost done. Add tomatoes for the last few minutes of cooking.
  4. Salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot frijoles refritos and tortillas.
 
 
Notes ~
 
~ The easiest way to peel garlic is to hit a clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Bring your fist down on the flat of the blade, smash the clove, and the skins will come off loose and peel easily.
 
~ The easiest way to mince garlic is with a garlic mincing tool. Most of us can’t mince garlic as fine as it should be quickly. The tool makes quick work of this. Also, reserve one cutting board for garlic and onion. You don’t want your sliced melon to have a linger of eau de garlic.
 

 


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