If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Mexico in September, with all the festivities surrounding Mexican Independence Day on September 16th, then you will probably be offered a very special dining treat: Chiles en Nogada. Typically August and September are the only months this culinary treat is available, as it is then that the new walnut crop comes in and used in the heavenly sauce that smothers Chiles en Nogada. If you are in San Miguel de Allende studying Spanish at The Warren Hardy School, you can find Chiles en Nogada year round at restaurants Mesón de San Jose on Mesones #38, and Bugambilia, at Hildago #42. You will be asked if you prefer them served hot (caliente) or at room temperature (tibio.)
This spectacular dish has patriotic associations, as can be seen by its colors which were inspired by the red, white, and green Mexican flag. Imagine stuffed green chiles peeking out from under a rich, creamy-white sauce featuring walnuts, thick cream, and cheese, and then see the whole plate sprinkled with glistening bright red pomegranate seeds, also in season during the Independence celebrations (festivales patrioticos).
This dish was first served to Mexico’s Emperor, Don Augustín de Iturbide, by the Augustine nuns of Puebla, who created it in his honor when he visited Puebla soon after the War of Independence. While there are as many variations to this national dish as there are recipes for a Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, and since it is a fairly complicated and complex recipe, we won’t include the recipe here. Almost every good cookbook featuring Mexican food will have its rendition of Chiles en Nogada, so suffice it to say that the stuffing for the chiles includes tender pork loin with the usual tomato, garlic, and onion background. However, the surprise is that the pork filling is also simmered with peaches, bananas, pears, raisins, and blanched almonds until the flavors marry and the mixture has thickened. If your experience with stuffed chiles (chiles rellenos) has been a poblano chile stuffed with a finger of Monterey Jack cheese, then you have a possible moment of enlightenment to look forward to with your first bite of Chiles en Nogada.
In next weeks Comida Mexicana, Lágrimas en el Caldo, or “Tears in the Soup,” we are going to find out how important it is for the chef to be in a good mood when he or she is cooking.