Photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes
THE CUISINE OF PUEBLA AND CHILES EN NOGADA
(Note: the following is adapted from an excerpt from our book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this author and Adriana Almazan Lahl )
It is traditional to serve Chiles en Nogada in the months of August and September when the ingredients are in season, coinciding with the Independence Day celebration September 15-16th.
The city of Puebla was an important center in New Spain, (which we now know as Mexico), a crossroads situated between the busy port of Vera Cruz and Mexico City. Along with its rapid development came the advent of Puebla’s convents and the birth of the cuisine for which these are now famous. Besides Rompope , Mole, Tinga de Pollo and a vast array of sweets, legend credits the sisters of Puebla with the original recipe for Chiles en Nogada.
This story is of a special meal for Agustin de Iturbide, a military commander who fought in Mexico’s War of Independence, and later proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico (from 1822 to 1823). In August of 1821, he signed what was to be the most important document in the country’s history, the Treaty of Cordoba, which granted Mexico its independence from Spain. After signing the treaty in Veracruz, Iturbide traveled to Mexico City, stopping on the way in the town of Puebla. There, the locals decided to hold a feast to celebrate the country’s independence, and to honor Iturbide. The Augustinian nuns of the convent of Santa Monica prepared a special dish, Chiles en Nogada, using local, seasonal ingredients.
The original recipe is made with a fruit and nut stuffing consisting of apples, pears, peaches, raisins, olives, almonds, pine nuts, plantains, and acitron (caramelized cactus leaves). The modern version combines meat or chicken with the fruit. This is a seasonal dish and either recipe is delicious. Both versions of this dish are finished off with pomegranate seeds and walnuts (the nuts are rumored to represent the politicos of the day) in dish that is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious to consume– a virtual Mexican flag on a plate.
Look for beautiful “red” walnuts at the Alemany Farmer’s Market on Saturdays to add some extra color to your dish.
Look for poblanos that are more “square” than long and narrow, these are easier to stuff. I like to pick chiles with fairly flat sides as they dry-roast nicely (this is the first step in the process, so as to remove the skin).
The recipe in our book calls for a picadillo filling of chicken or pork, but they are also delicious filled with ground lamb from 4505 Meats (available at the Mission Community Market on Thursdays or at their butcher shop at 1909 Mission St. open everyday but Tuesday, 11am – 8pm). For a vegetarian version, wild rice makes for a “meaty” texture that works beautifully as a filling, along with the other recipe ingredients: apples, pears, apricots, plantain, dried black currants or raisins, almonds and spices. Sabrosa!