September is Independence month in Mexico, el mes de las fiestas patrias and everyone is preparing to celebrate it the night of September 15. The colors of the national flag, red, white and green are everywhere you look and patriotism even extends to the cuisine. Although September menus invariably include pozole, tacos, guacamole and other festive foods, one dish is synonymous with Mexican Independence, Chiles en Nogada (Chilies in Walnut Sauce). Here is the story of this sophisticated and delicious recipe.
In 1821, General Agustín de Iturbide visited Puebla after signing the Treaty of Córdoba, the document that gave Mexico its Independence, with the last Spanish Viceroy, Juan de O’Donoju. He decided to celebrate his saint’s day in the city: August 28, the day of St Augustine, and the city’s elders held a banquet in his honor. The nuns of Santa Monica Convent were caught up in the fervor of his visit and invented a special dish to commemorate his visit and the birth of a nation, using the colors of the new flag: red, white and green.
The nuns served Iturbide their colorful new creation, calling it chiles en nogada. This savory-sweet dish features green chili poblano, a milder variety of chili about the size of the palm of your hand, stuffed with a mixture of minced beef and pork, onion, garlic, almonds, raisins, peach, apple and spices. The chilies are then topped with a creamy white sauce made from walnuts, almonds and sherry and garnished with pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander and parsley, thus all the colors of the flag are present in the recipe.
To this day, the inhabitants of Puebla pride themselves on this patriotic dish and every August chefs compete in a contest to prepare the best Chiles en Nogada.
Recipes for Chiles en Nogada vary from family to family, some cooks put pears and apple in the stuffing or use citrus peel, pineapple, prunes or banana. Some swear by nutmeg, pine nuts and add rum to the sauce, while others scorn the use of cream or cheese in the sauce, relying on nuts to create the creamy consistency. There is even a debate about whether chilies should be coated in batter and fried or not. The staples, however, are pomegranates and walnuts and these are only in season during late August and September, coinciding with Independence month. And whatever the interpretation, the results are always delicious.
Chiles en Nogada, the Hacienda Sisal Recipe
Every September, Hacienda Sisal serves up this classic Mexican dish and the chef has been good enough to share his recipe with us.
1 poblano chili per person (peeled)
1/2 oz flour
2 oz beaten egg
5 oz meat filling for each chili
90 ml walnut sauce for each chili
Preparing the Chilies
Gently fry the chilies or put them on fork and toast them over a low gas flame until the skin blisters. You should then put them in a plastic bag to sweat, something that makes it much easier to remove the skin. Remember to wear rubber gloves while doing this and avoid touching your eyes or skin. Rinse the chilies and make a small slit in the side, remove the seeds and veins, rinse them again and drain. If you think that they may be very spicy, soaking them in water with a tablespoon of white vinegar and salt for 30 minutes removes some of the heat.
Rinse the chilies and pat them dry. Stuff them with the meat filling, dust with flour and then coat in the egg. Fry the chilies lightly in hot oil until the egg is golden, the skin softens and the filling is heated through.
Makes around 1.9 kg filling
2 oz olive oil
1 tbsp. finely chopped garlic
2 ½ oz chopped onion
1 lb minced pork
1 lb minced beef
3 ½ oz chopped carrot
3 ½ oz chopped potato
3 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
3 oz raisins
2 oz chopped pecan nuts
1 ½ oz sliced almonds
5 oz chopped candied citron peel
1 lb 3 oz chopped tomatoes
½ tsp ground black pepper
7 oz chicken stock
Heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic and onion; add the minced pork and beef and fry until completely cooked through and brown. Mix in the carrot, potato, citron peel, herbs, raisins, nuts, tomato and stock. Cover and cook at a slow heat for up to two hours or until the filling thickens. Leave to cool.
Makes just over 2 kg sauce
1 quart semi-skimmed milk
2 lb fresh ranchero cheese (soft, creamy cheese)
10 oz sliced almonds
7 oz chopped walnuts
2 cinnamon sticks
½ oz sherry
¼ oz nut concentrate
4 oz Bacardi Añejo rum
¼ oz vanilla
1 ½ oz sugar
1 ½ oz brandy
Soak the walnuts overnight in a little milk to soften them. Blend the almonds and nuts until they resemble breadcrumbs and place in a saucepan; then add the milk gradually stirring continuously. Add the cheese, cinnamon and the remaining ingredients and stir continuously until sauce thickens, season with salt to taste.
The Festive Garnish
1 oz of pomegranate seeds
½ oz chopped parsley
2 oz green rice (cooked in stock with green peppers and coriander to color it)
2 oz g white rice
2 oz of Mexican red rice (cooked in tomato stock)
½ oz chopped coriander
Serve one chili per plate and pour the walnut sauce over it. Sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander. Serve with rice and sprinkle chopped parsley around the rim of the plate. As an extra special patriotic touch you could prepare three different kinds of rice: red, white and green
More Mexican Favorites to try at Hacienda Sisal
Chiles en Nogada are available at Hacienda Sisal in September but there are many other mouthwatering Mexican dishes to try year-round. Discover some of the dishes that have earned Mexico World Heritage status for its cuisine. Have you tried Chicken in Mole, the smooth and subtle chocolate-chili sauce that also originated in a Puebla convent during Colonial times? Tikinxic is Mayan-style fish marinated in achiote spice mix and grilled and other favorites are enchiladas, tacos, a shredded beef salad called salpicon and grilled pork carnitas. Every Thursday, the chefs serve prepare a national favorite, pozole, a hearty broth featuring hominy, pork or chicken and a tasty garnish of shredded lettuce, radishes, coriander and onion.
Live Mexican Music
New at Hacienda Sisal, every Tuesday and Thursday you can enjoy a selection of Mexican music performed by Voces de la Tierra, starting at 7:30 p.m.