Updated: Dec 28, 2020
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear “Mexican food?”
I have often found that people outside of Mexico think of Mexican food in a very different way than I.
A few months ago, my sister-in-law told me that she grew up associating Mexican food with big plates full of red rice, beans and chicken with a lot of cumin. To her, Mexican food meant hard shell tacos with lots of onions, sour cream, pico de gallo, and overcomplicated salsa, topped with cheddar cheese.
Over the years, traveling around the world, I have realized that, sadly, my sister-in-law is not the only one that has this culinary misconception, and that makes me sad L
When I think of Mexican food, my mind dashes to the complex dishes that the women in my family, and other influences in my life, have mastered with practice over the years; those dishes that require skills, techniques and even an instinct. When thinking about great Mexican food, I think of holiday meals - Christmas, Independence Day, or those big parties celebrating my grandparents’ birthdays. That’s always when the best of the best was presented.
I think about Cochinita Pibil, a traditional dish from the southeast region of Mexico, and how it is prepared with many ingredients and cooked on low heat for many hours. I think about Birria, which I tried for the first time during a lunch in the middle of a hot day in Guadalajara, Jalisco. I think about all the different types of Mole (pronounced Mo-Ley) I have tasted, all colorful and complicated - none made with less than 30 ingredients. I think about Barbacoa, that is traditionally cooked in a hole in the ground with maguey leaves (with variations in the cooking techniques depending on the region). Or I even think about Cabrito, which I had the best of during my first visit to northern Mexico.
Knowing how diverse and delicious it is, there is no question why Mexican cuisine was declared by UNESCO to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
Part of my mission living outside of my homeland is to introduce all those who desire, to the authentic flavors of our cuisine. There’s a respect that it brings, honoring tradition and history of a particular ethnic group.
One of the most sophisticated dishes of Mexican Cuisine, in my opinion, is Chiles En Nogada. It is mainly eaten during late summer/beginning of autumn, because that’s the time of year we harvest fresh poblano peppers, which is one of the main ingredients in the dish.
Chiles en nogada are essentially stuffed poblano peppers (chilis/chiles) dressed in “nogada,” a walnut cream sauce, then decorated with parsley and pomegranate.
This dish has been around since the times of the Spanish rule in Mexico, and though it is now served as a main dish, it was created as a dessert.
After the war for Mexican independence, the dish was served to General Agustin de Iturbide when he and his army visited the city of Puebla. It was decorated in a special way, just for him, in celebration of their victory. The decorators used different ingredients to resemble the colors of the Mexican army’s flag: fresh green parsley, a white walnut sauce, and vibrant red pomegranate seeds.
There are hundreds of versions of this dish, but in my personal opinion, my auntie Pila’s are the best. I tell her she is my favorite auntie, but she doesn’t believe me; she says “you say that to all of your aunties!” And that may be true, but when I tell my other aunts they’re my favorite they never question my love. Maybe one day she will believe me too. Haha ::wink::
I tried to do my best to reproduce her recipe with the ingredients I had on hand, and adding my own twist. I think my version turned out great! I hope you like them too.
Please, read the recipe and instructions thoroughly. Don’t feel overwhelmed by it. It is not difficult to make, but it does take time and patience.
Joha’s Chiles en Nogada
All these amounts are approximations, adjust as you go.
15-20 poblano peppers (depending on size)
2/3 lb of ground beef (600 grams)
1/3 lb of ground pork (300 grams)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, chopped in small pieces
4-5 Black peppercorns
2 cloves, ground
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
½ teaspoon of salt
1 apple, peeled and chopped in small cubes
1 peach, peeled and chopped in small cubes
2 oz of pine nuts (60 gr)
2 oz of skinless walnuts, chopped (60 gr)
2 oz of skinless almonds, chopped (60 gr)
1/2 cup candied fruit*
1/2 cup raisins (I only had dried cranberries this time, but it came out great!)
5 oz sherry wine (2 Caballitos)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
* The original recipe calls for “acitron,” which is a product of “biznaga” (a type of cactus that is in danger of extinction), so its use is prohibited. Candied fruit is a good substitute. If you don’t have that either, don’t worry.
33 oz sour cream (1 liter)
6 oz skinless walnuts*
6 oz skinless almonds*
6 oz cream cheese
2 oz goat cheese (optional)
5 oz sherry wine
Sugar, to taste
* If you’re unable to find skinless walnuts and almonds. You can do it yourself! I recommend doing this one day before. It is not a difficult process, but it takes time. Turn on your Netflix and start:
In a medium bowl, soak almonds in very hot water for about 15 minutes (or until the skin is soft enough to be removed). Remove almond skin with your fingers, it will be super soft and easy to remove all the skin.
As soon as the skin is removed let them soak in cold water until they are ready to be used for your recipe.
In a medium bowl, soak the walnuts in very hot water for about 15 minutes (or until the the skin is soft enough to be removed). Using tweezers, pull off the brown layer of skin.
As soon as the skin is removed place the skinned walnuts in cold milk and soak, so they don’t lose their color. Leave them until they are ready to be used for the recipe.
The seeds of 1 pomegranate.
A small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped.
1. Broil your peppers in direct fire (or in an oven). While still hot, place them in a plastic bag and tie it/seal it shut to allow them to “sweat” for about 15 minutes.
2. Remove from plastic bag and, using gloves, remove the transparent film from the skin of the pepper.
3. Make a small slit (not very big, remember, they will be filled) in the pepper and remove all the seeds inside.
4. Set aside on a plate, ready to be filled.
1. In a large skillet, on medium heat, add oil and sauté onions and garlic until translucent.
2. Add meat, chopped walnuts and almonds, candied fruit, pine nuts and raisins.
3. Add the seasonings: cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper. Mix well and let simmer, stirring occasionally.
4. When meat is cooked and almost ready to serve. Add apple and peach along with the sherry wine. Mix well, place a lid on top, and remove from heat.
5. Before serving, taste and adjust flavors.
1. In a blender, add sour cream, walnuts, almonds, cream cheese and goat cheese (if using), sherry wine and sugar to taste.
2. Taste and adjust sugar content.
[This dish is usually served at room temperature. I like serving the filled poblanos a little bit warm, and the Nogada sauce at room temperature.]
Fill the poblano with meat filling. Place on the center of a plate and pour Nogada sauce over the pepper, smothering it.
Garnish with fresh parsley and lots of pomegranate seeds.
Serve alone or with rice.
* Following Sommelier Mónica Cortés' suggestion, I decided to pair my Chiles en Nogada with a sparkling white wine: Prosecco, and it was perfect!
(For more pairing suggestions, check our section "Wine for all".)
¡Buen provecho and Viva Mexico!