Dressed to impress

Last Sunday, September 16th, was Mexican Independence Day. I’ll admit, the only reason I knew this is because a month or so ago, I found a recipe for something called “Chiles en Nogada” on Saveur online. Their description was enough to make my mouth water: “Traditionally made in Puebla to celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 16, these chiles have a minced pork filling enhanced with chopped fruit, and a creamy walnut sauce.”  Essentially, it’s roasted poblano peppers, stuffed with a picadillo, covered in a creamy walnut sauce, and topped with cilantro or parsley and pomegranate seeds. I’m going to go ahead and just give Mexico the win on this “let’s-make-food-colored-like-our-flag-to-celebrate-our-independence” competition.

Chiles en Nogada has such an explosive combination of flavors that I’ve never experienced before. The sweet-savory filling of pork and fruits combined with the mildly spicy poblanos all tied together with a walnut-queso fresco-crema sauce is so, so good. Seriously, how do people come up with these things? I unsuccessfully trekked far and wide to find a pomegranate and was on the verge of not even bothering with the recipe when Braeden, the smart one that he is, said “Why can’t you just buy some pomegranate juice and make it a syrup to drizzle on top?”

Seriously, how do people come up with these things?

So, here we are. But please, please, please don’t wait until another September 16 rolls around to make this. This is a dish worthy of any celebration. (Or, as Braeden also said after eating: “You have to make this for my parents the next time we cook for them.”) So take note, ladies and gents – if you want to impress someone, this is what you make.

Chiles en Nogada
adapted from this and this

Notes: I was lucky and had some really good pork shoulder roast which I cooked in the pressure cooker for an hour until it was a juicy, tender perfection. You could use leftover roast pork if you happen to have any, or if you want to make this a bit faster, try a pound of ground pork. (Or, I suppose, another ground meat like turkey or chicken.) You will almost definitely have leftover filling – I had grand plans of using it to fill won-ton wrappers, but ended up completely satisfied eating the filling for lunch later in the week.
Also – if you do find a pomegranate, by all means use the seeds instead of making the pomegranate syrup. I think the tart, juicy pop of the seeds would’ve made this dish all that much better.
One more thing – This is a rather involved recipe, but if you make the walnut sauce the night before, and roast the peppers while you’re making the filling, it’s not too terrible. Starting with already cooked, leftover meat would help, too.

Walnut Sauce
makes enough sauce to cover 6 poblanos
Time: about 40 minutes – do this the night before if possible.

  • 4 oz. (about a cup) walnuts
  • ½ cup milk
  • 6 oz. queso fresco
  • 1 cup crema or sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place walnuts in a 2-qt. saucepan, and cover with water; bring to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes. The original recipe says to take the skins off the walnuts, because they can be bitter, but after feebly attempting to rub off the skins, I gave up. (And it still tasted grrrreat. I include this step because I think it helped soften the walnuts.) Bring milk to just under a boil in same 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat, and add walnuts; let sit, covered, to soften nuts, 30 minutes or longer. Transfer walnuts and milk to a blender along with queso fresco, crema and agave. Purée until smooth and thick, at least 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl, and cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Important: I took the walnut sauce out of the refrigerator when I started making the filling, so that it could come to room temperature. I didn’t think I would want a too-cold sauce, but at room temperature the heat from the stuffed peppers warmed it perfectly.

Pomegranate drizzle
If you can’t find a pomegranate, make this to drizzle over top. Start this when you start roasting the peppers – it takes at least 40 minutes to reduce.

  • 8 ounces pomegranate juice
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in a tablespoon of water

In small saucepan, simmer/lightly boil pomegranate juice over medium heat until reduced by at least half, about 30 – 40 minutes. You can keep reducing until it gets syrupy, or if you’re impatient like me, stir in the cornstarch mixture to quickly thicken the drizzle. Set aside until ready to use.

Poblanos
Time – at least 45 minutes

  • 6 poblano peppers

Heat broiler to high. Place poblanos on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil, turning, until blackened all over, about 20 minutes. Transfer chiles to a bowl, cover tightly (you can use the foil that was lining the baking sheet) and let sit for at least 20 minutes, until skins slip off easily. Peel peppers; cut a slit down the length of each chile and carefully remove the seeds, leaving the stem and pepper intact. Set aside until ready.

Filling
Time – about 2 hours, including time spent cooking pork. About 1 hour if pork is already cooked, or if using ground pork. I cooked the pork first, then started making the filling once the poblanos were blackened and steaming, pre-peeling.

  • 1 pound pork loin, roast, etc. (I had a 2.5 pound pork roast and just cooked it all, saving the rest for another recipe)
  • 1 large onion (white or yellow), halved – roughly chop one half, finely chop the other
  • 2 tablespoons neutral flavored (aka not olive) oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or cilantro
  • 3 plum (or 1 large heirloom) tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 tart apple (such as Bramley, Haralson, Earligold, or Granny Smith), peeled, cored, chopped
  • 1 peach, peeled, pitted, chopped
  • 1 medium ripe (starting to brown, but not all the way black) plantain, peeled and chopped
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pork. If starting with pork loin, roast, etc.:  Chop the pork into 2-inch chunks, then in a large saucepan bring pork, the roughly chopped onion half, and 3 cups of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Season with salt, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook about an hour, until pieces are tender and cooked through. (If you have a pressure cooker, simply cook at whole roast with 2 cups water, onion, and a little oil for an hour at high pressure, natural release, then once cool enough to handle, chop pork into chunks).  Once pork is done, reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid and discard the rest.

2. In same saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the other half of finely chopped onion and cook until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and parsley/cilantro and cook until tomatoes start to break down, another 5 minutes. Add pork, cooking liquid, and fruits to the pan, stir occasionally, and cook until the fruits are cooked through and everything thickens, about 10 – 15 minutes. Taste and season as you like with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Set filling aside until ready to use.

And now what you’ve been waiting for,
Assembly

1. Take a pepper, and stuff with the filling. I probably used a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of filling per pepper. (They were quite stuffed).

2. Cover stuffed pepper with walnut sauce.

3. Drizzle or dot with pomegranate syrup; sprinkle on a little cilantro or parsley.

4. Repeat with other peppers.

5. Devour.

This would be lovely served with rice or some good, hot flour tortillas, but we just ate two peppers each and called it a (very stuffed) night.  And by the way, leftovers warm up nicely in the microwave.

I know this recipe is a lot to handle, but it’s completely worth it. I hadn’t even planned on writing a post (hence the lack of pictures), but you needed to know that this exists. And you need to make it.

Ready?

Kara

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