Poblano chiles are the backbone of Chiles en Nogada, a traditional Mexican dish. This homegrown recipe stuffs the chiles with picadillo—a type of hash consisting of a mixture of meat and dried fruit—and then covers the entire concoction in walnut sauce with a garnish of pomegranate seeds and parsley. Developed in the town of Puebla by eighteenth-century nuns, the dish incorporates the colors of the Mexican flag and is said to have originated around the time of Mexican independence. Chiles en Nogada is truly one of Mexico's most patriotic dishes, sometimes referred to as the country's "national dish," although this distinction technically goes to Mole Poblano.
History of Chiles en Nogada
Agustin de Iturbide was a military commander who fought in Mexico's War of Independence and later went on to become the emperor of Mexico from 1822 to 1823. In August of 1821, he signed the Treaty of Cordoba in the town of Veracruz, granting Mexico its independence from Spain. After signing the treaty, Iturbide traveled to Mexico City, stopping in the town of Puebla. It is here that the townspeople held a grand feast to celebrate the country's independence and to honor Agustin de Iturbide. The Augustinian nuns of the Santa Monica convent prepared a special dish for the feast using local, in-season ingredients and Chiles en Nogada (chiles in walnut sauce) was born. Today, Saint Augustine Day—which falls on August 28—is celebrated throughout the country and many families enjoy this sacred dish around this time.
Chiles en Nogada Season
Chiles en Nogada is a seasonal dish that is prepared and eaten during the months of August and September, the time of year when key ingredients—like pomegranates and walnuts—are in season. Chile en Nogada season also coincides with Mexican Independence day festivities. And since this dish incorporates the colors of the Mexican flag—red, white, and green—it is considered a very patriotic and festive recipe.
Sampling Chiles en Nogada
If you find yourself traveling to the Mexican mainland in the summer, sampling Chiles en Nogada is a must. Many restaurants serve this dish during the summer and fall seasons. In Mexico City, you can try it at Hosteria de Santo Domingo or Azul y Oro. In Puebla, where the dish originated, Casa de los Muñecos restaurant is a popular choice. And if you're on the coast, check out El Portón in Veracruz.
Preparing Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en Nogada is not a complex dish for a seasoned family chef; it just takes some preparation and time to assemble the ingredients. First, gather poblano chiles, beef or pork, one carrot, one onion, one potato, three plum tomatoes, peas, almonds, and candied fruit. Next, cook the meat and chop all the ingredients (if you use ground beef or pork, there's no need to chop the meat). Then, prepare the tomato base by chopping the tomatoes and processing them in a blender until smooth. Sautee the onions and all the veggies in a pan, then add the meat, tomato sauce, fruit, and almonds. Cook the mixture for 15 minutes to incorporate
To prepare the chiles, roast them over an open flame (on the grill or under a broiler) until the skins turn black. Remove the chiles from the heat source and place them in a paper bag to steam. After a few minutes, remove the chiles from the bag and peel off the skin with your hands. Gently, slice the chile down one side (but not all the way through) and remove the seeds.
To make the sauce, place walnuts, 1 1/2 cups Crema Mexicana, and cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt to taste into a blender and pulse until smooth.
Assemble the dish by stuffing each chile with the hot meat mixture, smother each chile in sauce, and top with pomegranate seeds and chopped fresh parsley.