Cooking Like A Mexican

Chiles en Nogada
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

Finally! The the season for the most well known, delicious and most colorful Mexican dish is here. The Chiles en Nogada and I have special feelings for this one, not only for its richness in history but because it was my first article when I started this column eight years ago this week. First I have to remind our precious readers that Chiles en Nogada are not available all year round and the reason is because two of its main ingredients are seasonal; the harvest of the walnuts and the pomegranate is only during August and September.

The name of this dish comes from the Spanish word for the walnut tree, “nogal”. It consists of poblano chiles filled with picadillo, (a mixture usually containing ground meat, aromatics, fruits and spices) topped with a walnut-based cream sauce, called nogada, and pomegranate seeds. The walnut used to prepare nogada is a variety called Nogal de Castilla or Castillan walnut; it is a light loving species, requiring full sun to be happy.

This dish is not ancient Mexican, like form the Aztecs, etc. This one is the perfect example of the fusion between European culture and Mexican culture back in the nineteen century. It is a baroque dish.

The Baroque is a cultural and artistic movement developed in Europe half of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, including a style of architecture, gardening, sculpture, painting, graphic and decorative arts, literature, theatre, music, dance and of course gastronomy. Most of Americans’ Christmas music is of the Baroque style.
This is the dish so traditional at this time of the year because this month is, for us Mexicans, the grand patriotic month, in which we celebrate our independence from Spain, and as you will read further, the dish is  closely involved with the celebration.

During this month our national colors of green white and red are everywhere, and of course in food too.  Chiles en Nogada are green, white, and red. They are served in almost any restaurant.

Chiles en Nogada was created in Puebla, one of the most important cities in México during the 1800’s.

Although there may be a bit of fantasy and romance in this story, like many other Mexican legends, the truth is that Chiles en Nogada became a national symbol from the time they were first created. The first time it was made was in1821, right after signing the independence of Mexico Treaty.

For years, Mexico had been ruled by the damn Spaniards but this was the year when, after several hard fought battles by our national heros, Spain threw in the towel and recognized our  independence. Not only that, but our flag was first created and waved over our land.

The colors of this flag have a special meaning: Green; Hope, White: The unity of all Mexicans. Red: The blood spilled by our National heroes.

 General Agustin Iturbide, after signing this treaty on his way what back to what we know today as Mexico City, pass throughthe state of Puebla, which was already well known for its excellent cuisine. It was also San Agustin’s day, and by consequence his “santo” (Mexican celebration as birthdays that honors the saints and celebrates all those who bear their names), so there were several things to celebrate and his presence in Puebla had to be noticed. It is told that Agustín de Iturbide was so afraid to be poisoned that at the beginning he refuse to eat anything, but when the dish was served, he just couldn’t resist and he ate it twice! And yes, he survived.

Puebla is also known for its many Catholic churches and convents, so, obviously with political interests, the Bishop of that city ordered the nuns of Santa Monica, to prepare a special dish to honor this General. It was very important for the church, to ingratiate and be in good terms with him as he would be the future Emperor of Mexico.

At this time of year was when pomegranates were harvested and nuns came up with the idea of using the vibrant red color of this fruit to integrate to the dish and still use the three colors of the newly created Mexican flag. For the white they used a very special cream based on walnut, almond, milk, sherry wine, and goat cheese. The green would be a note that the parsley gives when served.

The intention was to present a colorful dish, elegant, original and certainly delicious. The peppers used for this dish are “poblano chiles”, so the mission was to put everything together and meet all expectations. The result was shocking, not only for their fine and beautiful appearance but because the flavors blend all the ingredients for an explosion of flavor on the palate. This may be one of the first fusion cuisine dishes that are so “in” these days, since it has both Mexican and European elements resulting from years and years of coexistence between indigenous Mexicans and Europeans.

It's indescribable the wealth of flavors and textures as you try this dish,

"Nogada" refers to the creamy walnut sauce poured over a poblano pepper that is charred and skinned, carefully deseeded, and filled with an unusual, delicious mixture of ground meat, fruit, and spices.

Looking at the ingredient list, it doesn't seem to make much sense. It’s like one never think about having all this different flavors and textures mixed at one single dish, the sweet and sour taste of the stuffing, the softness of the walnut cream and a touch of the grenade is something that only mention it and think about itmakes the mouth. It's a surprising combination, both in flavor and texture: aromatic, savory, and sweet, often all at once.

this time of year there are several restaurants that integrate and add to their menus “Chiles en Nogada”, prices depend on the kind of restaurant but think in a range from 8 to 20 usd. Some chefs could add their own touch, but if you see them on the menu and if you dare to try something exotic, delicious and very Mexican, “Chiles en Nogada” should be your choice. By the way, this dish does a perfect marriage with a glass of champagne.

So dare yourself and surprise your friends and family.

 

INGREDIENTS:

For 12 poblano chiles regular size:

Filling:

1lb. ground beef

1 lb. ground pork loin

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped

¼ cup finely chopped onion

4 tablespoons of lard (you can use oil if you prefer)

1 quince

2 yellow apples, 2 pears, 2 apples and 2 peaches (all diced and peeled)

1 tablespoon of raisins

1 tablespoon of chopped pecan

1 tablespoon of pink pine nuts

1 diced citron (candy made from the heart of the sweet barrel cacti. Acitrón in Spanish)

1 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

 

For the white sauce

4 tablespoons of wheat flour

8 eggs

3 cups of oil or shortening

Salt to taste.

 

For the traditional walnut sauce:

½ cup of peeled almonds

1 cup of peeled walnuts

1 lb. of goat cheese (you can substitute for double cream cheese)

Milk and sugar

 

serve:

 

1 cup of parsley

1 cup of pomegranate seeds (you can use more, as much as you like)

 

Procedure:

Over an open flame, char the poblano peppers until the skins are blackened, then transfer to a bowl covered with a towel for 10 minutes to allow the steam to loosen the skins. Slip off the skins and carefully split the peppers along one side. Remove the seeds and membrane and rinse them carefully. Set aside to dry.

Heat the lard in a skillet, fry the garlic and onion until they look translucent, pour all the meat, and start adding the diced fruit. Go in hardness order, the citron first, the pear, the apples and the peach at last, add the raisins, nuts and pine nuts. Mix everything well and remove from fire. Season with pepper and nutmeg.

Fill the chiles with this mixture by the cut you did to remove the seeds and closed it with a toothpick. Spread the flour on the chiles so the egg will stick (I use a strainer for this)

Beat the whites until stiff, add the yolks and then dip the chiles. Put them in a pan with oil very hot. You have to turn them often to brown evenly. Once they are like golden color, put them on a paper towel to absorb the excess of oil.

To prepare the walnut sauce, liquefy all the ingredients we described above. Taste it often, it doesn’t have to be too sweet, too thick or too light. It has to have a creamy consistence.

To serve, pour some walnut cream on a plate, then put the stuffed chile, then cover with more walnut cream, spread the pomegranate seeds on top, and sprinkle some parsley leaves.

Serve hot, and expect several accomplishments for your cooking. Y que VIVA MEXICO!.