11.12.2011

Chiles en Nogada



This week, we take a jaunt to Puebla, Mexico - the place where chiles en nogada were created. Tradition holds that this dish was first made in observance of the date when Father Miguel Hidalgo began the fight for Mexico's independence from Spain in 1810 (September 16th). Either the Monjas Clarisas or the Madres Contemplativas Agustinas of the convent of Santa Monica - both orders of nuns in Puebla - created the dish in his honor.  It uses the three colors of the Mexican flag: green, white and red.

The first time I ever saw chiles en nogada - and I say saw because it was a visual encounter only - was in the movie, Like Water for Chocolate. The movie, based on Laura Esquivel's book of the same title, is a favorite among foodies, and for good reason.  Quail in rose petal sauce, turkey mole with almonds and sesame seeds, and the egg-rich Chabela wedding cake are a few of the recipes cited in the book/movie. All are prepared with a passion so fierce that you can almost smell them cooking as you watch.  At the end of the movie, as in the final chapter of Esquivel's book, the heroine comes out of the house with a platter full of chiles en nogada. I knew immediately I had to learn how make them.

I could see that they were some kind of chiles rellenos covered with a creamy white sauce, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.  Until I purchased Esquivel's book, I had no idea how many ingredients were involved, and was truly surprised by extraordinary combination of favors.  While the book names the ingredients for each dish, the directions are interspersed throughout each chapter – it’s a novel, after all, not a cookbook – making it difficult to follow, especially as a young, inexperienced cook.  I gave the book to a friend to read, and never saw it again.

Flash forward several decades to Tucson.  At the Tucson Botanical Gardens’ charming bookstore, I bought the cookbook Frida’s Fiestas by Guadalupe Rivera (coauthored with Marie-Pierre Colle).  It is based on reminiscences and recipes from her life with her mother, Frida Kahlo.

That night, I sat in bed taking in all the amazing recipes she had collected.  She presents them seasonally by month.  Moles, stews and fritters grace each month's offerings. When I turned to the section on National Holidays, there was the recipe for chiles en nogada! I knew immediately what was on our menu for the coming weekend. 

The recipe is so much more than simple chiles rellenos.  These special holiday versions are stuffed with a subtle mix of meats, fruits and nuts; the cream sauce is a mixture of Mexican crema, ground walnuts and queso fresco, with a dollop of sherry added for good measure.

Once I took in the ingredient list, I realized that this is autumnal food.  Sadly, I was reading the recipe in April; pomegranate seeds and walnuts were very much out of season.  So, I waited through the summer for the seasonal ingredients to come onto the market. And the wait was worthwhile! 

Even in Tucson it is hard to find peaches, pomegranates and walnuts all in season at the same time, especially on September 16th.  So I waited a month more and managed to get all for October 16th. (But I have also had luck using reconstituted dried peaches in November, when the pomegranates are at their peak here).

This is not a meal that can be thrown together at the last minute, but it isn't difficult, either.  It is, however, a great choice for a special celebration.  Because there are many steps, it would be a great dish to make together with friends, perhaps with a margarita or two.

I did a lot of research to find an authentic recipe for chiles en nogada - and I learned that, like many traditional dishes, each recipe varies from home to home, from abuela to abuela.  There are probably simpler versions, but the one I give below is the one that appeals to me for the complexity of the favors combined.

After the meal, the best dessert you can offer is a steaming cup or bowl of Mexican hot chocolate.  In Tucson, we are happy to see Yissel and Dave back at the Farmers Market with their artisanal Oaxacan chocolate bars that melt down into an addictive cup of hot chocolate.  They bring it up from Oaxaca and this year they are selling molinillos, too; these are hand-carved wooden whisks used to froth traditional Mexican hot chocolate (though a utilitarian wire whisk works fine too).  Visit their website Xocolatl if you aren't in Tucson and want to order some for yourself!
 
Mexican hot chocolate is quite distinctive; it combines chocolate, almonds, sugar and cinnamon in a small brick that is melted into hot milk or, as seen in Like Water for Chocolate, hot water.  I prefer using milk, as do Yissel and Dave. 

So, if you have a quiet day and have thought ahead to get the ingredients, you should give this a try.  The combination of flavors promise to make your taste buds awaken with delight.

Buen provecho!

- David

Chiles en Nogada 
Based on Frida's recipe

6 large poblano chiles, roasted whole, peeled, seeded
    (using only one slit to remove the seeds and veins) 
1/2 cup flour 
3 eggs 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
canola oil 
1 large pomegranate, seeds removed and reserved 
parsley, for garnish

FILLING 
1 pound ground pork 
1/2 large sweet onion, peeled and quartered 
4 tablespoons butter 
1/2 large sweet onion (the other half), chopped 
2 cups tomato purée 
1/2 apple, peeled and chopped 
1 peach, peeled, pitted and chopped 
1 plantain, peeled and chopped 
2 tablespoons candied citron, finely chopped 
2 tablespoons golden raisins 
1/4 cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped 
2 teaspoons sugar 
salt and pepper

WALNUT SAUCE 
1 cup walnut pieces 
1/4 cup slivered almonds 
1/2 cup queso fresco 
1/2 cup Mexican crema or half-and-half 
2 tablespoons sherry 
2 teaspoons sugar 
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place the pork and onion chunks in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  (Simmer longer if your pork is very fatty.) Drain and discard onion pieces; set pork aside.

Heat butter in a large skillet and sauté the chopped onion until soft and translucent - about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato purée and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, stirring often.  Add the reserved pork, fruits, citron, raisins, almonds and sugar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes.  Set aside.

Purée all the sauce ingredients - the consistency can be either chunky or smooth, depending on your preference.  If the sauce is too thick, add more crema or some milk.  Refrigerate if you do not plan to use right away, although the sauce should not be cold when it is served on the chiles.

Pat dry the roasted and peeled chiles with paper towels.  Divide the filling among the 6 peppers, being careful not to over stuff or tear them.  Spread the flour on a plate and turn each chile in the flour to coat lightly.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, but not too dry.  In a small bowl, beat the yolks with the salt.  Gently fold the yolks into the whites to make the batter. 

Heat about 1/2-inch canola oil in a comal or cast-iron frying pan.  Dip the chiles, one by one, in the batter and fry - one or two at a time - until golden brown.  Drain them on paper towels as you fry the others.

Serve the chiles at room temperature by dipping them in the walnut sauce to cover them completely.  Place each on on a plate to serve and bathe with more nogada sauce.  Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and garnish with parsley.

9 comments:

  1. This is terrific, David. As always. I had chiles en nogada for the first time last month in Mexico, and loved them. Now, I get to make them because of you, dear talented friend!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Patrician! They are so incredibly special and I know you will have fun making them!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lynn Toby and John LeeNovember 13, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    Oh yes -- finally. A special favorite of ours; marvelous combination of flavors and textures. Looks spectacular. As you know, we have been waiting impatiently for you to post... Perhaps we can co-opt Thanksgiving, and pretend we are in the land of sun and mountains.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mmmm! This looks so amazing. I have heard of these stuffed chiles before but never tried them. I wonder, do you think that you could make a veggie version with the same basic idea in mind? That's something that I'd try.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Stevie - there IS a vegetarian version of Chiles en Nogada - I will post a comment on your blog with a link to it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Lovely, David, and thank you for your Holiday wishes. Please send me an e-mail at my yahoo account -- the old one is closed and many addresses are electronically sleeping with the fishes. All is good in Hertfordshire, Save the Children is inspirational. More to come.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks, dear friend! If you come visit, I will make these for you! Happy New Year!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi - Quick question, for the Norgada Sause, what type of sherry should I use? Cream or Dry Sherry?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Marbella - I used dry sherry - with all the fruit in the filling, I thought it provided a better balance. Good luck making them!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

If you would like to receive follow-up comments, simply click the "Subscribe by E-mail" link to the right of the "Publish" and "Preview" buttons.