Monday, September 14, 2009

Chiles en Nogada

Lucky me, I was invited by Tommie to a fanastic dinner party this past Saturday. Feeling tired and worn out from a day of garage cleaning, I was tempted to back out. But Tommie was kind enough to come over and help me, so I would have been a heel to cancel at the last minute. So I went.

Oh, man. How brilliant for me that I did. I had a fantastic time. And the food was as great as the company. Without a doubt, my favorite dish was the Chiles en Nogada. Had I been unobserved, I might very well have devoured the entire platter. I understand the meal itself is quite labor intensive and usually made only for special days, but I am sharing it anyway.

And yes, Ric will be making this as soon as he gets home. Anyone else want to join us for dinner?

The recipe:
Chiles in Walnut Sauce (aka Chiles en Nogada)

adapted from Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel


The chiles:

6-10 large fresh poblanos


The garnish:

the seeds of 1 pomegranate


The sauce:

4 oz queso fresco, crumbled

4 oz walnuts

¾ cup heavy cream

¾ cup milk


The filling:

2-3 T canola oil (or lard if you're feeling sassy)

1 onion, chopped

4 oz almonds, finely chopped

1 lb ground sirloin

2 t cumin

1 T sugar

2 oz raisins

1/2 lb tomatoes, chopped

1 oz candied orange peel (should be candied citron, but I evidently cannot find that in Austin in October), finely chopped

1/2 peach, peeled, cored, and chopped

1/2 apple, peeled, seeded, and chopped





Add the walnuts, cheese, cream, and milk to a blender, and puree till completely combined. Ta-da, your sauce is finished. (Note: most recipes I've found call for removing the skins from the walnuts, but I didn't bother with that step and didn't detect any real bitterness in the sauce.)



I don't get to use my normal method for roasting the chiles here since they need to remain whole so they can be stuffed. In this case, oil the chiles and roast under a broiler, turning frequently to fully blister the outside. Allow the chiles to sit in a sealed plastic bag for 15-20 minutes to let the skins loosen. After the time has elapsed, carefully peel the chiles, then split them open and remove (the majority of) their seeds.



Saute the onions in oil till soft and translucent. Add the almonds and continue to saute until the nuts begin to color slightly. Add the ground sirloin, cumin, and sugar and let the meat brown. After the meat has cooked completely, stir in the peach, apple, raisins, tomatoes, and candied orange peel or citron. Continue to cook till the fruits have softened and given off their juices and those juices have largely cooked away. Season with salt to taste.



Allow the filling to cool slightly. Once cooled, carefully stuff the chile cavity with the filling, arranging the stuffed peppers on a serving tray as you go. Once all the chiles have been stuffed and arranged, drizzle the walnut sauce over the top of them. Sprinkle your hard-won pomegranate seeds all over the top of that for a beautiful presentation.

I watched Like Water for Chocolate in its original spoken Mexican with English subtitles and found it quite enjoyable. The book of the same title, on which the movie is based, is also available as an English translation. In the English version of the book at least, the ingredient list for this dish didn't quite seem to match up with the recipe (I'd be interested to know if the Spanish version of the book does a better job), but in the end it's meant to be a story, not a cookbook, so I guess it's forgivable. At any rate, if you happen to have the book in front of you, you'll notice that I took a few liberties with the recipe.

Even with the modern conveniences of pre-shelled nuts and a high-powered blender, this dish is still a bit on the labor-intensive side. In the end though, after all that work it turned out really well. The flavors were really fantastic. Poblanos vary in their heat – some are very mild, almost like bell peppers. Others are fairly spicy (maybe they were grown near jalapenos and were subject to cross-pollination). Ours turned out to be on the spicy end of the spectrum, which actually worked pretty well here. The sweet meat filling and its mildly piquant roasted chile casing were nice counterpoints to the rich creamy sauce and the tart and crunchy pomegranate seeds. It is the perfect metaphor for a richly flavored, many textured feast of a movie (well, maybe if it ended up burning in the end).

Thanks to the Hungry Engineer for the recipe.

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