Version of Chiles en Nogada
The Traditional Dish of September 16th
Despite hosting comidas (leisurely
afternoon luncheons) celebrating Independence Day every year, I had not
once served Chiles en Nogada. I loved this special dish served in local
restaurants every September, but was fully aware of what could go wrong.
A too sweet sauce, a greasy filling, or worst of all, a stingy sprinkling
of pomegranate seeds could ruin the balance of this Mexican culinary masterpiece.
Once and for all, it was time I learned to prepare Chiles en Nogada for
and if possible, to my own liking.
The first step was to dive into
our collection of Mexican cookbooks. I soon discovered that there were
as many versions of this famous recipe as there are cookbooks! Although
all recipes were stuffed versions of poblano chiles, the similarities
ended there. Some chile pepper fillings (picadillo) contained almonds,
others walnuts, and still others contained both. But the greatest source
of confusion was the ingredients of the famed nut sauce that tops the
chiles. For the creamy base, some recipes used goat cheese, others Philadelphia
cream cheese, and others sour cream or crème fraîche. Furthermore,
the "en nogada" or nutty part of the sauce required milk-soaked
walnuts in some recipes, peeled (yes peeled!) walnuts in others, and sometimes
even piñon nuts. Were not walnuts a requirement in THE walnut sauce?
After reading 20 plus recipes, I
decided to amend a good basic recipe with the following goals in mind;
ease of preparation, excellent flavor, and a traditional presentation.
And no walnut peeling! Here are the results.
CHILES en NOGADA
My Version of Stuffed Chiles with Walnut Sauce
1: POBLANO CHILE PREP
12 fresh poblano chiles
SWEAT THE CHILES
To "peel" the chiles, place each directly on the burner of your
gas grill. Rotate with tongs until all sides are blackened (tops and bottoms,
too). Toss into a large Zip-lock bag and seal until all chiles are done
If you do not have a gas stove,
fire up the Weber and char your chiles on the fire.
PEEL THE CHILES
Remove one charred chile from the Zip-lock bag (re-seal), and "peel"
while holding under a stream of warm tap water. The skins will easily
fall off with gentle coaxing (scrape away the charred chile skin with
your finger nails). Place the peeled chile in a colander to drain. Remove
the skin from all chiles in this manner.
CLEAN THE CHILES
Cut a slit down the side of each cleaned chile, vertically, from the stem
end almost to the pointed end. Remove all the seeds and any large veins,
leaving the stem attached. Place on layers of paper towels to further
remove moisture from the chiles.
ADVANCE PREP NOTE
The chiles may be "peeled" two days in advance of your comida
and stored, covered in the refrigerator.
STEP 2: PICADILLO
1 medium white onion, diced, or to taste
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, or to taste
2 pounds ground beef or chuck
Salt to taste
Add ground black pepper to taste
½ cup of chopped pecan meats, or to taste
½ cup raisins, or to taste
½ cup candied barrel cactus called BISNAGA (if available). Or substitute
chopped, dried apricots
ABOVE: Bisnaga for sale at a Mexican grocer.
COOK'S NOTE: CREATING
A SAVORY-SWEET PICADILLO
Approach making a good picadillo in the same way as you would make a good
Thanksgiving stuffing. That is to say, maintain a pleasing balance between
the savory (the meat and onions) and the sweet (the raisins, bisnaga---or
dried fruit---and pecans). Also, strive for a nice balance of textures---particularly
the ratio of nuts to meat (I like more chopped pecans than most). Adjust
all ingredients to your liking. I also am a fan of adding the onions last
so they don't "disappear" or become too soft while the meat
BROWN THE MEAT
Sautee ground meat in a large heavy pan until lightly browned and the
meat's grease has been released.
COMPLETE THE PICADILLO
To the browning ground meat, add the raisins, chopped pecans, and diced
candied cactus (bisnaga) or chopped dried apricots, to taste. Then add
diced onion (to taste) and chopped garlic to taste (note, not too much
as there is garlic in the walnut sauce, also). Salt and pepper to taste.
Drain only if there is excess grease. Cool the meat mixture.
STUFF THE CHILES
Place the chiles on a cookie sheet lined with a bed of paper towels (to
soak up liquid from the chiles). Gently spoon the meat mixture into the
chiles. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
ADVANCE PREP NOTE
Make the picadillo meat filling and stuff the chiles one day prior to
STEP 3: WALNUT SAUCE (NO COOKING!)
1 cup chopped walnuts, or to taste
2 cups sour cream
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, then add to taste
1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning sauce, then add to taste
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped, then to taste
Black ground pepper to taste
Salt to taste
And A Secret Ingredient
ABOVE: Maggi Sauce
Place whole walnut meats into a food processor container fitted with the
chopping blade. Chop walnuts until fine yet still have texture (like for
pesto). Set aside.
ABOVE: Ground walnuts (in relationship to a teaspoon).
ASSEMBLE WALNUT SAUCE
Place sour cream in a large mixing bowl. Add minced garlic. Add the chopped
walnuts (setting aside some chopped walnuts for garnish) and mix well.
To the sour cream mixture, begin
by adding 1 Tablespoon of Worcester sauce and 1 teaspoon of Maggi stirring
completely to blend. Taste. Continue adding Worcester sauce and Maggi
until the flavors are balanced with the sour cream. Add salt and pepper
SAUCE TEXTURE: The sauce should have a good distribution of chopped walnuts
throughout, but the overall impression in the mouth is creamy. I think
a rougher chopped walnut achieves the desired texture---if the nuts are
pulverized, the sauce seems too grainy in the mouth.
SAUCE COLOR: A pleasing creamy color.
SAUCE CONSISTENCY AT THIS STAGE:
The present consistency of the walnut sauce is not much different than
the original sour cream---very, very thick.
SAUCE TASTE TIPS: The flavors of
sour cream, Maggi and Worcesteshire are all present, but no one flavor
overpowers. After tasting, there is a subtle lingering of fresh garlic.
MY SECRET INGREDIENT: COLD COFFEE
LEFTOVER FROM BREAKFAST!
Slowly add (cold) strong brewed coffee---stirring constantly after each
sauce to a smooth, "spoonable" state. The coffee brings out
every flavor in the sauce
in a good way! Store covered in the refrigerator.
ADVANCE PREP NOTE
Make the walnut sauce the morning of your comida.
STEP 4: FINAL PREP AND PRESENTATION
1 fresh pomegranate, peeled and seeded (reserve the seeds)
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
ripe pomegranates for sale in the Pátzcuaro market.
GATHERING THE FINAL COMPONENTS
POMEGRANATE SEEDS: Seeds in a bowl, ready to be used as garnish.
CHOPPED WALNUTS: Chopped walnuts in a bowl, ready to be used as garnish.
STUFFED CHILES: Remove from the refrigerator at least 2 hours prior to
serving. They should be room temperature when served.
WALNUT SAUCE: Remove sauce from the refrigerator at least 2 hours prior
to serving. The sauce should be room temperature when served. Mix well
before assembling the dish.
Lay one stuffed chile on the serving plate. Ladle walnut sauce over the
center portion (leaving the ends of the chile visible).
ABOVE: Plated, stuffed chile with walnut sauce.
Sprinkle the walnut sauce with pomegranate
seeds followed by a dusting of chopped walnuts. Serve
|ABOVE: Chiles en
Nogada, plated, garnished and ready to serve.
MORE COOK'S NOTES
PERFECT FOR ENTERTAINING
Chiles en Nogada may be prepared in advance and are (correctly) served
at room temperature. This is the perfect entrée to keep you with
your guests and out of the kitchen!
Although Chiles en Nogada is a meal in itself, here are some suggested
Mexican Rice Pilaf, also in the
red-white-green motif (made with chopped tomatoes green peas and onion).
Keep it mild (no cilantro) so as not to overwhelm the sublime and complex
flavor of the walnut sauce.
Mexican Beans (not refried). A mild
brown bean is best. Serve in small bowls.
Try (easy) Calabasa Casserole made
with chunks of zucchini, onion, and fresh tomato piled into a casserole
then simmered in chicken broth (lid on) until tender. Crumble in some
thyme. Add fresh sweet corn kernels if in season. Salt and pepper to taste,
then cover the tender vegetable chunks with strips of Oaxacan cheese (or
Monterrey Jack). Put the lid on, turn the flame to low, and wait until
the cheese is completely melted. Leave the lid on until ready to serve.
Pickled jalapeños with marinated
onion, carrot and cauliflower.
Dessert? Tres Leche Cake, of course!
Here's my favorite recipe
Go to the nearest Mexican neighborhood.
Select the busiest bakery. You will know it when you see it. Order the
Tres Leche cake one day before your comida. If it is a bakery making specialties
from central Mexico, they will ask you to select a filling from no less
than 30 dizzying choices. Tell them "mocha" or "café"
coffee flavored filling that enhances the cake's milky richness (my preference
versus the overly sweet fruit fillings). Pick the cake up the morning
of your comida leaving it in a cool spot until time to serve. After serving,
left over cake must be refrigerated (still good, but not as good as when
you first bring it home).
I suggest doubling or tripling the recipe when preparing Chiles en Nogada.
Freeze the chiles, sauce, and pomegranate seeds in separate Zip-lock freezer
bags according to servings.
RIPE POMEGRANITE SEEDS
As pomegranates are a seasonal item, buy, seed and freeze them when readily
available. To freeze, place the seeds in a Zip-lock bag---that's it---and
NOT FOR SEPTEMBER ONLY
Don't wait an entire year to prepare this delightful dish! I recently
heard from a friend who serves Chiles en Nogada every year for Christmas.
Having now served Chiles en Nogada for a large comida, I am only sorry
that I did not learn to prepare them before! It may be the very best,
prepare ahead, serve-at-room-temperature entrée EVER. I would even
tote these to a picnic!
You can trust my experiment above,
or delve into the fascinating history and many wonderful recipes for CHILES
EN NOGADA yourself. I've made it easy for you. Go directly to Google.
Result #1 of 24,500
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Recipe concocted by Deb Hall, distilled from 3 different recipes.