Seasonal Dish: Chiles en Nogada
If you happen to be in Mexico during the last weeks of August or first half of September you may be able to see this dish being offered in most of the city’s restaurants.
Chiles en Nogada (which literal translation would be chillies in walnut sauce) are one of the most Baroque, patriotic and visually appealing dishes native of the state of Puebla.
There are many stories and legends behind its origin but the most accepted (and romantic) version says the dish was first prepared in 1821 by the nuns at the Santa Monica convent with the excuse of the arrival of San Agustín the Iturbide to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Truth is, this is a dish that uses lots of ingredientes available right at the end of summer. Apples, pears and more importantly walnuts and pomegranate seeds put together with ground meat, onions, bay leaves, raisins, almonds, pine nuts and a certain kind of cactus called Biznaga in its candied version.
If you were a strict follower of Puebla’s original recipe you would have to chop and combine all ingredients, stuff a grilled and peeled Poblano pepper with them, dip the chili in egg and fry it, cover it with a cheese, cream, sherry and walnut sauce and finally top it with pomegranate seeds and a few parsley leaves.
That is the main idea behind the dish, but of course recipes may vary from one cook to another and so does the price. It can range from $180 up to $350 and it’s pretty much only about the quality (and quantity) of the ingredients or the reputation of the place.
This year I took on the task of trying it in different spots to see the different versions of it. Here’s the recap for you and a recipe in case you want to give it a try at home.
One of my favorites this year simply because the walnut sauce was not overly sweet and the ingredients were nicely balanced. A bit pricey if you ask me, but that’s what you can charge when the head Chef of the restaurant also owns of the most traditional and renown restaurants in the city: Nicos.
Campeche #322, Condesa.
Café El Popular
A very accesible price and a great traditional place in the downtown area. Nogada could’ve had more walnuts and the filling was really heavy on the meats. You get exactly what you pay for (in a good way).
Calle 5 de Mayo #52, Centro.
This Chile en Nogada served in the Merced neighborhood came with a really romantic decoration (a red rose and everything). The filling had lots of dried fruit and was served warm. Nogada was a little too runny due to the great amount of sherry in it, which made it a little bit too sweet for my taste. A really nice touch: it came with hand-made tortillas on the side.
Roldán #37, Merced
Nunery Las Clarisas
This is the only Chile en Nogada that I got to try within the state of Puebla. The whole story of how I got to try it deserves its own post (I’ll try to upload it soon). The chili was battered, the sauce was heavy on the sherry and a little bit sweet but it was my absolute favorite filling: the amount of perfectly chopped fruit was the same as the amount of meat in it, making it way more different and interesting than any other chili I’ve ever tried (In fact, the recipe on this post is based on this proportion).