Photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes
THE CUISINE OF PUEBLA AND CHILES EN NOGADA
(Note: the following is adapted from an excerpt from our book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this author and Adriana Almazan Lahl )
It is traditional to serve Chiles en Nogada in the months of August and September when the ingredients are in season, coinciding with the Independence Day celebration September 15-16th.
The city of Puebla was an important center in New Spain, (which we now know as Mexico), a crossroads situated between the busy port of Vera Cruz and Mexico City. Along with its rapid development came the advent of Puebla’s convents and the birth of the cuisine for which these are now famous. Besides Rompope , Mole, Tinga de Pollo and a vast array of sweets, legend credits the sisters of Puebla with the original recipe for Chiles en Nogada.
This story is of a special meal for Agustin de Iturbide, a military commander who fought in Mexico’s War of Independence, and later proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico (from 1822 to 1823). In August of 1821, he signed what was to be the most important document in the country’s history, the Treaty of Cordoba, which granted Mexico its independence from Spain. After signing the treaty in Veracruz, Iturbide traveled to Mexico City, stopping on the way in the town of Puebla. There, the locals decided to hold a feast to celebrate the country’s independence, and to honor Iturbide. The Augustinian nuns of the convent of Santa Monica prepared a special dish, Chiles en Nogada, using local, seasonal ingredients.
The original recipe is made with a fruit and nut stuffing consisting of apples, pears, peaches, raisins, olives, almonds, pine nuts, plantains, and acitron (caramelized cactus leaves). The modern version combines meat or chicken with the fruit. This is a seasonal dish and either recipe is delicious. Both versions of this dish are finished off with pomegranate seeds and walnuts (the nuts are rumored to represent the politicos of the day) in dish that is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious to consume– a virtual Mexican flag on a plate.
Look for beautiful “red” walnuts at the Alemany Farmer’s Market on Saturdays to add some extra color to your dish.
Look for poblanos that are more “square” than long and narrow, these are easier to stuff. I like to pick chiles with fairly flat sides as they dry-roast nicely (this is the first step in the process, so as to remove the skin).
The recipe in our book calls for a picadillo filling of chicken or pork, but they are also delicious filled with ground lamb. For a vegetarian version, wild rice makes for a “meaty” texture that works beautifully as a filling, along with the other recipe ingredients: apples, pears, apricots, plantain, dried black currants or raisins, almonds and spices. Sabrosa!
Stuffed Peppers in Walnut Sauce / Chiles en Nogada
(All recipes in this post serve 6)
6 Poblano chiles
prepared Picadillo (ground meat filling) (A)
Nogada (walnut sauce) (B)
½ cup pomegranate seeds
2 tbsp. parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
Dry roast chiles to remove skin. Carefully stuff the peppers with the Picadillo, taking care not to rip the peppers. Transfer the stuffed peppers to a serving platter.
Cover with cold Nogada sauce and garnish with pomegranate seeds and parsley, mimicking the Mexican flag.
1 lb. pork shoulder or chicken breast (or omit for original, vegetarian version)
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
½ Spanish white onion
5 medium ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
½ cup white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, plus 2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. freshly minced cilantro leaves 2 cups apples, finely diced
2 cups pears, finely diced 2 cups diced apricot
1 ripe plantain, finely diced
2 tbsp. dried black currants or raisins
2 tbsp. dried cherries
2 tbsp. sliced blanched almonds, toasted
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp. white sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
Pinch of cumin
Salt to taste
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Cook the meat in medium saucepan with 2 cups of water and 1 bay leaf, 1 clove garlic, ½ Spanish white onion. Once cooked, let it rest and shred; set aside.
Put the tomatoes, ¼ cup of onion, and 2 cloves of garlic in a blender purée until smooth. Add 1 tsp. of oil to a saucepan and add the remaining ¼ cup onion and chopped garlic. Sauté 2–3 minutes and pass the tomato mixture purée through a sieve and into the saucepan with 1 tsp. of olive oil; cook uncovered on medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Add shredded meat, fruit, spices, bay leaf, and all remaining ingredients to the saucepan and let simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Place in the refrigerator once cooled. Remove bay leaf before using.
B. Nogada Sauce
¼ cup Crèma Mexicana or Crème Fraiche
¼ cup goat cheese
¼ cup walnuts, whole, blanched
1 ½ cups milk or almond milk
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons Port or Sherry
½ tsp. salt
Mix together all the ingredients in a blender until puréed into a smooth sauce (the mixture should be a little thicker than a gravy). Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve (is served cold).