The story of Mexico’s national dish, Chiles en Nogada
Time-consuming, sometimes consisting of 45 ingredients, this sweet and savory dish is a flowery delight.
If you’ve never eaten chili in nogada, the first time is a revelation, enough to demolish all your prejudices about Mexican cuisine. A poblano pepper stuffed with meats, fruits and spices, covered with a snow-white walnut sauce, sprinkled with bright red pomegranate seeds, it looks like art on a plate. It tastes like a dessert and a starter in one. It has the colors of the Mexican flag – green, red and white – and that’s no coincidence.
Often referred to as Mexico’s national dish and arguably the most patriotic, it hails from Puebla, a town a two-hour drive southeast of Mexico City. Puebla is famous for its Baroque architecture, Talavera tiles, food, and the birth of Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of Mexico’s victory over France on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla. The very word poblano means “from Puebla”.
History says that chili in nogada was prepared during a feast for General Agustin de Iturbide – who had just signed the treaty granting independence from Mexico to Spain in 1821, the Treaty of Cordoba – by nuns from the Convent of Santa Monica to honor the new flag of Mexico. It depends Mexican cuisine (a 1972 book which was later revised as The essential cuisines of Mexico) by Diana Kennedy, a Mexican regional food authority. But, you’ll hear this origin story everywhere, not just from the British-born winner of Mexico’s highest honor to an outsider, the Order of the Aztec Eagle. Despite popular tradition, it seems that this dish was created before that, as recipes for this dish appear in 18th century Mexican cookbooks.
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Time-consuming, sometimes made up of 45 ingredients, this sweet and savory delight is as ornate as local Baroque masterpieces, like the gold and white carvings in the Rosary Chapel of the Church of Santo Domingo, or the cherubs with native faces and local plants carved in the church of Santa Maria Tonantzintla near Cholula. Traditionally, chili is stuffed with fruits found in Puebla, such as panochera apples, criollo peaches and pears in sweet milk, and sometimes candied cacti called acitron. The filling is a picadillo, a hash of minced or minced meat and fruit popular in Latin America, which may, depending on the country or region, contain raisins, olives or almonds. The meat is usually ground beef and pork. White sauce is a puree of nuts with cheese or cream, a rich and tangy cream similar to sour cream.
“The most important ingredient is nuez from castilla [walnut], the main ingredient in the sauce. Normally you add cheese, but it’s important to retain the flavor of the nut, ”says Leobardo Espinsoa, general manager of Meson Sacristia de Compania, a boutique hotel filled with antiques in an 18th-century house in Puebla. Its restaurant serves it, and its cooking school also teaches how to make the dish. Both only occur when the nut is in season, July through September. Nut season opens with a VIP dinner for national leaders at his restaurant, which serves 10 different types of dishes. chili in nogada, one in each restaurant or hotel in Tesoros de Puebla, a network of local “treasures” that reflect Mexico’s distinctive culture and character.
“Puebla is the Lyon of Mexico, the city that locals invariably refer to when a conversation revolves around their country’s cuisine,” said one New York Times story Remarks. (The industrious nuns of the city even created poblano mole, a rich chocolate Mole sauce originally from Puebla, in another convent, the Convent of Santa Rosa.) Locals recommend different places for wonderful chili in nogada. Espinosa favors Casa de Los Munecos and Entre Tierras. Two favorites of Maria de Mar, a Puebla-born guide to Eat Mexico, are Meson de Santa Teresa, a cozy restaurant in a 17th-century house a five-minute walk from the Convent of Santa Monica, and Augurio, an elegant one-way restaurant. half a block from the Amparo Museum and its superb collection of pre-Columbian and colonial Mexican art.
But it is served throughout Mexico during festivities surrounding Mexico’s Independence Day, September 16. An annual del Chiles En Nogada festival takes place in September at the Tijuana Cultural Center, featuring professional chefs and home cooks from the state of Baja California. Scott Koenig, a San Diego journalist and blogger at A Gringo in Mexico, was a judge for his 2019 cooking contest, the only American chosen that year. “No two in this competition are alike. There is a big debate in Mexico as to whether chili should be breaded and fried with a crust, called capeado, or not. Some sauces are blindingly white, others nutty and darker, ”he says.
In Southern California, it’s the most famous dish at La Casita Mexicana, a restaurant in Bell, a city in Los Angeles County. Hailed as a “riot of flavors” by the 2019 Michelin Guide, it appears on the restaurant’s home page. In New York, it’s quite rare but served at Mesa Coyoacan in Williamsburg. The chef / owner of the Brooklyn restaurant, who went to cooking school in Puebla, adds more vegetables, uses organic meat, and adds rum and tequila to the sauce. In accordance with Mexican custom, both only serve it in the nut season.