Throughout history, many important dishes have held significance because of their affiliation with events of the past. In Mexico, the Chile En Nogada, or as it is known in English, “chiles in walnut sauce,” is one such dish that holds a particular significance to the people of Mexico. Its import arises because of its roots being traced back to Mexican independence.
Yet, what exactly is Chile en Nogada, the dish that tastes like a savory entree and sweet dessert rolled into one? We will get to the origin of this flavorsome recipe a little later. First, we want to discuss what goes into this traditional Mexican meal that is still made every year in August and September.
Chile en Nogada is not a quick dish to create. It is labor-intensive, takes time, and has to have the right ingredients, which is why it’s considered celebratory. When prepared correctly, this dish is truly a masterpiece not only for its flavor and artistic flair but also for its ingenious use of in-season ingredients and meticulous attention to detail.
The main elements of the dish are dark green poblano peppers that are not spicy and a creamy walnut sauce. The poblano peppers are stuffed with ground meat – pork or beef – along with dried fruits, nuts, and olives. The dried fruit is added for sweetness and to help balance out the peppery flavor.
To complete the dish, a creamy walnut sauce is poured over the stuffed peppers, and then it is topped off with red pomegranate seeds. The result is truly spectacular as it represents the colors of the Mexican flag. This blend of European and Mexican ingredients is what makes this dish truly Mexican because it embraces the history of pre-Hispanic Mexico and colonial Mexico.
For more than 200 years, this dish has been prepared and consumed by the Mexican people and many other ethnicities as a remembrance of the independence Mexico gained from Spanish colonial rule in 1821. This patriotic meal is deeply personal and a symbol of national pride and Mexican heritage. That’s why it’s unsurprising that it has an interesting origin story believed by many but contested by some.
According to the widely spread origin story, Chile en Nogada was created by nuns in Puebla, Mexico, in 1821. It is believed that shortly after signing the Treaty of Cordoba to give Mexico its independence, General Augustin de Iturbide was traveling back to Mexico City when he decided to stop and visit the Convent of Santa Monica in Puebla. This convent was home to the nuns of the order of Augustinian Recollects.
To honor Iturbide, who was considered a war hero, the nuns presented him with a banquet. The story goes on to say that Iturbide was concerned with being poisoned by political enemies, so he refused to eat the various dishes presented to him.
DID YOU KNOW? The red color of pomegranate arils (the stuff around the seeds) come from a chemical called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are water-soluble vacuolar pigments that, depending on their pH, may appear red, purple, blue, or black. Food plants rich in anthocyanins include the blueberry, raspberry, black rice, and black soybean, among many others that are red, blue, purple, or black. Some of the colors of autumn leaves are derived from anthocyanins.
Yet, there was one dish he could not resist. The creation story written by Ricardo Munoz Zurita in the tome on Mexican Cuisine, called “Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana,” states that the one dish Iturbide could not resist was a meal created to resemble Mexico’s new flags colors. Iturbide was so enamored with the dish because of its flavor and what it represented that he cleaned his plate. Or so the story goes.
After researching this origin story, some have claimed that although this could have been one of the reasons it became a symbolic dish to Mexico, Chile en Nogada might not have originated in 1821 but instead much earlier.
According to a famed chef named El Naranjo, there is an earlier recipe of Chile en Nogada found in a family cookbook that dates back to the 18th century. The existence of these recipes is mentioned in a 2010 cookbook titled “Los Chiles Rellenos en México.”
Regardless of if the tale is true and the dish invented by nuns or not, it is still a meal that Mexicans recreate every year in celebration of their independence.
WORDS: Jason Collins.