My time spent in Mexico last year was in a word, incredible.
It was a month of discovery, reward and realisation.
I made friendships with people who for their own unique reasons were pulled towards Mexico – to that little city nestled in the rippling peaks of the Sierra de Guanajuato. Whether it was to give something back, create new memories, or simply to grab at the glorious opportunities life has to offer, everybody’s reason for coming to San Miguel de Allende was different.
For me, going to Mexico was a combination of the three. After visiting the website for Casa de los Angeles and seeing the wonderful work they do for families in need, I knew I wanted to help. Of course, nearing the end of my gap year and having yet to stray outside of Europe, I was also desperate for the new and exciting prospects Mexico would offer. However, more than anything else I yearned for adventure. I wanted to discover the side of Mexico that stands confidently above its grimy reputation, but which still manages to bend down and start to pull its impoverished out from the bottom of the pit; bringing them up to drink in the view over those golden rooftops of San Miguel.
Chiles en Nogada represents the spirit of Mexico. The colours of the green poblano pepper, the creamy white walnut sauce and the adornment of pomegranate red jewels symbolise the colours of the flag, making it the dish to be eaten on Independence Day.
I learned how to make it one sunny afternoon in San Miguel. A cookery lesson offered as part of my week-long Spanish course brought myself, three loud Texans and a feisty-looking Mexican lady into a small kitchen, on a hot hot hot summer’s day.
The teacher, not being able to speak English, threw out orders in fast Spanish, “pica el cebollo…los nueces…el ajo”. In the chaos things actually seemed to be happening…productive things. One person chopped onions, another blended walnuts and cheese to make a sauce and another cooked the meat; all of this happening whilst an 8 year old Texan girl talked to me about how she lived in Dallas and her Dad was a fire fighter. It was all rather amusing, and hot, although iced tea came to the rescue there.
On sitting down to eat the fruits of our labour, two thoughts came to my mind: first, Texans are awful friendly and second, THIS is quite possibly one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.
That memory has stuck with me throughout the year and sometimes, in a moment of reminiscence I’ll consider making chiles en nogada again, but then I remember the long ingredients list and put off embarking on the procedure…until today.
Student kitchens – and really dirty ones at that (see previous post) – are quite difficult to cook a pizza in, let alone embark on a full blown Mexican delicacy, so it was with buckets of patience that I set about cooking my chiles.
Basically, chiles en nogada consist of a cooked poblano pepper stuffed with a fruity mince, fried in egg and then covered with a walnut and cream cheese sauce. There are many variations, and mine, which is vaguely translated from the recipe from my cooking class would probably give purists a heart-attack (well, if the frying and cheese doesn’t get there first). However, it’s still delicious. And when a taste of something as simple as a stuffed pepper can take you straight back to that sunny courtyard in Mexico, sipping ice tea and drinking in the world, then it is most certainly worth the effort.
Chiles en Nogada.
I’ve attempted to translate the recipe from the Spanish version we were given in the class, and I’ll also include my alterations, of which there were quite a few.
– 6 poblano chillis (these are hard to get hold of in the UK, so I substituted it with a green bell pepper. Heresy, I’m sure)
– 1 tsp of oil
– 1 chopped onion
– 5 cloves of garlic
– 500g minced beef
– salt and pepper
– 200g raisins
– 200g ground almonds
– 1 apple, peeled and chopped finely
– 1 banana, chopped finely (sounds strange but trust me – delicious)
– 200g ‘acitron’ (optional)
-1/2 kilo tomatoes, chopped
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
For the walnut sauce
– 150g of walnuts
– 200g cream cheese
– 1/4 cup sour cream
– 1tsp cinnamon
– 1tsp sugar
– 2 slices of white bread, without the crusts
– 1 pomegranate to decorate
– 6 eggs (this is for the frying, although as you can see from the photos I missed out on this stage, although it is devilishly deliciously)
1. Roast the peppers under the grill until blackened and tender, probably about 5 minutes. Once cool remove the black skin, cut a slit lengthways and remove the seeds.
2. Cook the onion and garlic in a little oil for a few minutes before adding the mince, cooking until browned. Season with salt and pepper
3. Add tomatoes and a little water, followed by the cinnamon, almonds, apple, raisins and banana.
4. Cook until the beef is thoroughly cooked – probably about 10 minutes.
5. Take your peppers and stuff them with the mixture. At this stage you can cover them with the walnut sauce which we’ll get into in a moment, or you can continue onto the frying stage. A bit of a faff but definitely worth it.
6. To make the egg coating, seperate the eggs and whisk the whites until they form stiff peaks. Now beat the yolks and gently fold them into the whites with a little salt. Dip each pepper into the egg mixture so that they get a good coating and fry them in hot oil in batches. Once they’re golden brown take them out of the oil and place on kitchen towel.
7.Now, simply blend all of the ingredients for the walnut sauce until smooth. If it’s too thick add more sour cream/cream cheese. Pour generously over the peppers and scatter with pomegranate seeds.