This gorgeous dish was actually created in 1821 in Central Mexico to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, which occurs on September 16, 1810. I came across this recipe when a local library asked me to do a vegan demo on regional Mexican cooking to celebrate Mexican American Heritage month. At first glance, you’ll see the bright colors of the Mexican flag–red, white, and green.
The finished dish is actually stuffed poblano chiles with a sauce made of walnuts. I think you’ll agree it makes a sensational presentation.
I found the recipe is so appealing and so festive looking, I felt it deserved a place at the holiday table from Thanksgiving through New Years. There’s just one little hitch that’s easily solved. Peaches, which are featured in the recipe, are no longer available in November or December, but sweet fruits like persimmons and pears stand in quite well.
The other challenge–the original recipe was quite fatty and contained meat, milk, and cheese. No problem–I replaced the meat with beans and created the filling from a composite of several recipes. I’ve added diced zucchini and fresh fruits like diced apples and Fuyu persimmons in place of the candied cactus.
Also, I’ve not battered and fried the stuffed chiles, because I wanted to offer a healthier, less fatty option.
My recipe contains no sugar, but uses the fruits as delicate sweetening. For the Walnut Sauce I use vanilla soymilk and non-dairy cheese made from pea protein to replace the traditional dairy products.
The dish is said to have been created by Puebla nuns for a visiting dignitary, emperor Augustin de Iturbide, a Mexican military chieftain who was instrumental in the Mexican independence movement.
That man didn’t realize how fortunate he was. Chiles en Nogada was not a quick and easy dish to make because it has several components that each require special attention. One recipe I encountered contains 40 different ingredients! Don’t worry, it’s not this one!
In those historic days, there no blenders. To make the creamy Walnut Sauce, they had to use a grinding stone called mano and metate that works like our mortar and pestle.
I’ve created a simplified version of the recipe, but it still involves 3 components–charring the chiles on the stovetop and peeling them, making the filling, and blending the sauce.
Once all the chiles are charred and cleaned and the fruits and vegetables are chopped, the recipe comes together quickly and can be prepared in stages.
For guests who are not fond of chiles, here’s an alternative presentation. Instead of stuffing the chiles, I used them as a border surrounding the filling. That way, guests at the buffet table can simply take a helping of filling and side-step the chiles. The topping is slivered almonds.
Don’t side-step the sauce, though. It’s delicious! Just serve it on the side.
CHILES EN NOGADA
Yield: 8 servings
8 fresh poblano peppers
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 to 4 tablespoons water
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch ground cloves
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium apple, cored, and diced
1 firm fresh peach, persimmon, or pear, cored and diced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup sliced or slivered toasted almonds
3 cups vanilla soymilk or plain soymilk with 2 teaspoons organic sugar added
2 cups walnuts
3/4 cup non-dairy shredded mozzarella
Freshly ground black pepper
8 large romaine lettuce leaves
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds or 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
4 green onions, green part only, chopped
- Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat.
- TO PREPARE THE CHILES, put the poblano peppers directly over a gas flame, using several burners simultaneously. Working with long-handled tongs, turn the peppers frequently until blistered and blackened on all sides, about 5 to 7 minutes. Put the blackened peppers into a bag or wrap them in a towel and set aside for about 5 to 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Alternatively, plunge the blackened peppers into a bowl of water. Rub off the skins under running water to clean the charred chiles.
- Carefully cut a vertical slit in each chile and cut out and discard the core and any stray seeds. Arrange the chiles on the baking sheet and set aside.
- TO PREPARE THE FILLING, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the onion, garlic, and water in a large deep skillet. Cook and stir over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the onions and prevent burning.
- Add the diced tomatoes, zucchini, fresh tomato, bay leaf, salt, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves and cook about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the black beans, apple, peach, raisins, and almonds and cook about 3 to 4 minutes, or until the fruits are just softened.
- Open the slits in the chiles and spoon a generous portion of filling into each of them, filling them fully. Close the slits, enclosing the filling completely. Put the chiles in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes to warm through.
- TO PREPARE THE SAUCE, put the soymilk, walnuts, mozzarella, salt, and pepper in a blender and process until smooth and creamy.
- TO SERVE, line each person’s dish with a lettuce leaf. Put one stuffed poblano on each dish and spoon a generous amount of the sauce over the top and sides, coating each one completely. Garnish with a generous sprinkle of pomegranate seeds or chopped red bell pepper and green onions.