What in the world do chilis have to do with Mexican Independence day? It’s all about the colors. This story begins in 1500 and ends in 1821. This is the story of Mexican Independence day and the Chiles en Nogada that are made to celebrate it on September 16th every year.
The Spanish conquered Mexico in 1516 and turned the indigenous Mayan and Aztec nations into their slaves. Through the years, numerous uprisings were attempted and squashed. This was about to happen once again in 1810. Learning that the Spaniards got wind of the revolt planned for October 2nd, the Mexican’s pulled the date forward to September 16th. The night before “Dia de la Independencia,” Father Hidalgo rallied the people, mostly poor farmers and civilians. His soaring rallying cry, called “El Grito de Dolores” (The day of the Cry of Dolores ) is repeated every year on September 15 by Mexico’s President. Although Father Hidalgo was executed within a year, he had already put into motion the victorious fight for Mexico’s independence 11 years later. Suffice it to say, Father Hidalgo is considered by many to be the “father of the nation”.
But what does all this have to do Chiles en Nogada? This dish was created in 1821 by nuns in Puebla to present to the victorious General Augustin de Iturbide on his way back to Mexico City from Veracruz after accepting the Spaniard’s surrender. The dish, with it’s green chile and cilantro, red pomegranate seeds, and white nogada sauce represent the green, white, and red of the Mexican flag.
Chiles en Nogada
- Food Processor or blender
- High-sided skillet
- 6 large Poblano peppers
- 10 oz Pork, 1 piece
- 10 oz Beef, 1 piece or stew meat cubed
- 1 medium Carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 medium White onion, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 cloves Garlic, peeled and cut into chunks
- ¼ tsp Dry thyme
- 1 medium Zucchini squash, cut into chunks
- 3 Plum tomatoes (Sub: canned diced tomatoes)
- 1 medium Waxy potato (red or gold), cut into chunks
- 8 oz Candied fruit (no cherries) or dried pineapple
- 4 oz Raisins
- 4 oz Peeled almonds
- 1 tsp Ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp Ground cumin
- 2 tbsp Brown sugar
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1¼ cup Crema (don't use sour cream)
- 6 oz Shelled walnuts
- 2 oz Sweet sherry (optional)
- 1 large Pomegranate
- ½ cup Parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Prepare Meat – Place meats in a high-sided pan or saucepan. Barely cover with water and mix in 1 tbsp brown sugar and thyme. Bring to a simmer and cook through, turning once, about 20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool slightly. Save cooking liquid.
- Prepare Filling – In a processor, chop almonds very fine. Remove to a small bowl. Chop the cooked meats into cubes and add to processor/blender. Pulse until finely chopped into ¼-inch cubes. Remove meat and add onion. Chop onion into tiny cubes the same size as the meat. Remove to a bowl. Do the same thing with the carrot, zucchini, potato, and candied fruit and save each in separate bowls or in piles separated on a plate or cutting board. Add plum tomatoes and ½ cup cooking liquid from the meat. Process until smooth but not liquefied.
- Cook Filling – Fry onions in 3 tbsp oil over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add in potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in meat, then pureed tomato, then carrots, zucchini, and raisins and cook for 5 minutes more. Mix in dried fruit, cumin, and almonds and cook for 15 minutes more. Vegetables should be cooked through and liquid reduced. If filling is getting too dry before vegetables are cooked, add 1 tbsp of meat cooking liquid at a time to loosen. Season with cumin, salt and pepper.
- Prepare Poblano Chiles – To remove skin, place peppers over an open flame (or on electric coils) on your stove. Blacken and blister skin on all sides. Place finished peppers in a plastic ziplock bag and "sweat" them for a few minutes. Remove most of skin by scraping it off with the blade of a knife. Be careful to not split pepper open and leave stem on. Make a small incision down the side of each chile without cutting through the tip. Remove seeds and ribs from inside with your fingers to make a nice home for the meat filling.
- Prepare the Sauce (Nogada) – Place crema, walnuts, ½ tsp cinnamon, 1 tbsp brown sugar and sherry, if using, into the processor/blender. Process until sauce becomes very smooth.
- Prepare Garnishes – Slice pomegranate in half and remove seeds to a bowl. Chop parsley fine, saving a few large leaves for decorating.
- Assemble and Serve – Fill each poblano chile with enough filling so it will just close (use toothpick if necessary). Place each chile on its own plate and spoon sauce over until completely covered. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds then chopped parsley over each. Decorate with loose parsley leave. To serve, first regal guests with a beautiful and uplifting rendition of the complete "Grito de Delores" speech, end with a shout of "Viva la Indepencia!", then devour.
- If there’s time, let filling rest for 2 hour to combine flavors further.
- Peppers can be prepared ahead of time and even refrigerated to be stuffed later.
- Before stuffing, filling should be warmed on the stove or in a microwave oven.
- Stuffed peppers may be warmed in the oven before adding sauce, garnishes to serve.
- After mangling the first pepper trying to peel it, it becomes quick and easy thereafter. If this is the first time attempting this, it might be a good idea to get an extra poblano to sacrifice to the Aztec Gods.