Chiles en Nogada
Master of nun.
A beautiful, edible incarnation of the red, green, and white of the Mexican flag, the iconic chiles in walnut sauce was reputedly created by Pueblan nuns in 1821 to commemorate their country’s independence from Spain. Variations of this colonial-era dish, as well as arguments about their respective authenticity, are plentiful. And the complexity of some of those preparations—peeling each walnut makes for a perfectly white sauce, I’ve learned—rivals that of Puebla’s other convent-born pride and joy, the 427-ingredient mole poblano. (I kid—there are only 40-something ingredients—but it would seem the sisters had a lot of time on their hands.)
Often eaten on Mexican Independence Day, this seasonal delicacy (pomegranates and walnuts are at their best right now) was traditionally served at room temperature, and the walnut sauce was cold and sweet. Here, food historian and cookbook author Melissa Guerra adapts the nineteenth-century recipe for twenty-first-century palates and contemporary kitchens; other than hunting down errant pomegranate seeds, the only tedious step is roasting and peeling your peppers, which you’ll then stuff with a fruit-studded pork-and-beef picadillo and drizzle with a sumptuous sauce that incorporates salty cotija cheese with walnuts (unpeeled), almonds, and pecans.
8 poblano chiles
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 small white onion, minced (about 1/4 pound)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and minced
1 heaping tablespoon raisins (about 1/2 ounce)
1 heaping tablespoon dried crystallized pineapple, minced (about 1/2 ounce)
1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 ounces unsalted walnuts
2 ounces unsalted pecans
2 ounces blanched unsalted almonds
1 1/2 cups half and half
4 ounces queso cotija, finely grated
salt to taste
Wash the poblano chiles and roast directly on a gas flame or under a broiler. Once the chiles have blistered and blackened, wrap them in a clean cotton towel and cover with a glass bowl. Allow to steam for about 20 minutes. Remove them from the towel and carefully peel the chiles. You can use a paring knife to scrape off any loose peel. Slit the chile lengthwise, turning out the interior bulb of the stem where the seeds are attached. Remove the seeds either by scraping them out or by cutting out the bulb, while leaving the stem intact. Set aside.
In a 10-inch skillet, brown the ground pork, beef, and minced onion. Once the meat is no longer rare, add the remaining ingredients and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a separate 10-inch skillet. Add all the nuts and allow to brown for about 7 minutes over medium heat; make sure they do not scorch. Once browned, add the nuts to a food processor or blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree, adding the half and half as necessary to make a sauce that is the consistency of a thick, warm salad dressing. Return the sauce to the pan, salt to taste, add any remaining half and half and the queso cotija, and heat gently for about 10 minutes as you prepare the chiles.
Fill each of the chiles with a couple of spoonfuls of the meat mixture and place on a platter with the open slit to the side or underneath. Do not overfill. (If desired, stuff chiles and rewarm in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.) Once your platter of chiles is ready, top with the warm sauce and garnish with the pomegranate seeds.