Chiles en Nogada… Mexico's Most Emblematic Dish
Chiles en Nogada: Google it. The story is long and beautiful, and there’s so much info on this dish, one of the most emblematic of Mexico. Bringing together the rich colors of the Mexican flag, green, white and red, Chiles en Nogada is typically made during the Mexican Independence Day celebration, and only served during fall and winter seasons when pomegranates can be purchased in the markets in Mexico.
Creating the nogada sauce (named after the nogal, or walnut tree) that’s draped over the chiles is a very laborious process. You soak a gazillion walnuts until the brown, papery skins loosen. Then you peel. And peel. And peel. Every last bit. The more you peel, the whiter your sauce gets. And, as the Mexican flag is not green, taupe and red, but rather green, white, and red, you can imagine how important this step is! When paired with the green of poblano and the red of pomegranate seeds sprinkled over the top, you will see this trio of colors appear!
So here’s the treasonous part: I don’t like walnuts much… so I skip them! I honestly didn’t grow up with this dish (it’s seen more in central Mexico, especially Puebla, where the dish was born), and, for a long time, I just wasn’t able to appreciate it. I always disliked the sauce because of its richness and grainy texture, and until recently, I wasn’t a fan of fruit in my savory foods - the ground meat filling of this dish, picadillo, has a mix of fruits and raisins that I really just did not like. Well, over time, the picadillo has grown on me, but I’ve never been able to warm up to the Nogada.
Problem solved: I make this with cashews instead! I like the neutrality of cashews much better and that cashew sauce from my last cookbook is my current obsession - I make creamed poblanos (rajas) with it, blend it with avocados, cilantro and serrano for a dressing, blend it with ripe mango for a dessert sauce over pound cake… the possibilities are endless! Plus, with so many dairy sensitivities, it’s nice to have a luscious sauce option that won’t leave you in pain. The bonus is that the cashew sauce comes out whiter than the walnut sauce – plus it is super creamy (especially since I pretty much blend it to death in the VitaMix - you can blame my training in France for that one!).
So this is a Chiles en Anacardo-ada (yes, that’s my made up word based on anacardo, the Spanish word for cashew!) – and look at that photo, it’s just a gorgeous dish! Truly an explosion of flavors which pairs charred poblano, sweet and savory picadillo, tart pomegranate, and the creamy cashew sauce. Delicioso. Try it out. Tag me at #CasaMarcela or #DeLaLuz and tell me what you think…
Chiles en Nogada
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground sirloin beef
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dried apples, chopped
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
3/4 cup acitron, or sweetened dried pineapple, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups cashews*
2 1/2 cups Mexican crema
4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
10 poblano chiles, charred, peeled, left whole for stuffing
Whole flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
In a medium heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the pork, ground sirloin, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, salt, and pepper and cook at medium heat until meat loses its pink color and is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add the dried apples, apricots, and sweetened pineapple and remove from the heat. Add the ground cinnamon and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf and discard.
Sauce: Put the cashews, Mexican crema, and goat cheese in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and silky, about 2 minutes. Sauce should coat the back of a spoon (if the sauce is too thin, add more cashews and puree. If too thick, add more cream). Season with salt to taste.
Cut a lengthwise slit into each chile and carefully cut out seeds with kitchen shears, leaving the stem intact. For less spice, carefully remove the veins.
Spoon the filling into the chiles. Then close them, slightly overlapping the sides of the openings. Transfer the stuffed chiles, seam sides up, to plates and pour about 1/3 cup the walnut sauce over each chile, leaving some of the chile visible. Sprinkle with parsley leaves and pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature.
*Leave cashews 3 hours soaking in water. This will make the cashews softened for a better sauce.