Photograph Pedro Luis de Aguinaga
I just bought my first pomegranates of the year so it’s time to trot out my fabulous recipe for chile en nogada which I will be serving for my dinner tonight.
There is no doubt that chiles en nogada are one of the crowning glories of Mexican cuisine. They are traditionally served during August and September when the walnuts are newly picked and pomegranates are in season in Mexico. Because of the green chile, white walnut sauce and the red pomegranates, the colors of the Mexican flag, they are the quintessential dish for Mexican Independence day menus.
It was created by nuns in the 1800’s in the city of Puebla to honor the Emperor Agustin de Iturbide. Every year there is a festival and competition for the best chile en nogada in that fair city that is also known for its delicious mole poblano and beautiful Talavera tiles and dinnerware. Many years ago I contacted the Walnut Board in California and suggested that they too hold a country-wide contest for the best chile en nogada. After going back and forth for weeks, they responded that walnuts could only be shipped across state lines once they had dried sufficiently so as to not become mouldy and, secondly, that they could only feature recipes that had a ridiculously low amount of fat. So they missed out on a great opportunity. After all, how many walnut specific savory recipes are there that lend themselves to something like this?
Recipe: Chiles en Nogada
2 medium ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
6 large poblano chiles
Vegetable oil for frying
l/2 cup unsalted butter or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely dice2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small green or other cooking apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 ripe, firm peaches, peeled or 1/2 cup dried, diced
1 small ripe plantain, skin removed, diced
3 tablespoons diced preserved citron (If you live in New York, you can buy it at Kalustyans; if you don’t. you can order it from them
3 tablespoons dark or golden raisins softened in
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 cups shredded cooked pork butt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon freshly round canela (true Ceylon cinnamon),
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1.4 teaspoon ground cloves
Nogada Sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup pomegranate seeds
50 Italian parsley leaves
Heat heavy cast-iron skillet or griddle over high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Roast the tomatoes, turning several times, until blistered on all sides. Let cool until just cool enough to handle. Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and chop finely. Set aside. Wash the poblano chiles and thoroughly dry them. Make a small (l to l 1/2 inches long) lengthwise slit in each chile. Pour oil into large heavy skillet to a depth of about l/2 inch and heat over high heat until very hot but not quite smoking. Fry the chiles, 3 at a time, turning once or twice, until they puff up and take on an olive-beige color. Remove from pan as they are done. Let cool and carefully peel them using a paper towel to rub the flesh off . DO NOT RINSE UNDER COLD WATER. Very gently pull out seeds through the slit in each chile, being sure not to tear the flesh. Set aside.
In large skillet, melt the butter or vegetable oil over medium heat until very hot and fragrant. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. Add fresh and dried fruit and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the spices and pork and cook, stirring to combine, for 2 minutes more. Season with the canela, salt, and pepper to taste. Carefully fill the mixture into the chiles through the slit in each. Bake on greased baking sheet or shallow pan for 5 minutes. Cover the chiles with the nogada sauce and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and a few leaves of Italian parsley. Chiles may be served warm or at room temperature.
Number of servings (yield): 6
Recipe: Nogada (walnut sauce)
1 cup walnuts
1/2 pound queso fresco or cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 small French rolls soaked in milk until softened and squeezed dry
1/3 cup dried sherry
1/2 teaspoon ground canela (true Ceylon Cinnamon or use 1/4 teaspoon U.S. cinnamon