I’ve been reading “Like Water for Chocolate,” a wonderful story about love and cooking by Laura Esquivel. It inspired me to become creative in the kitchen once more. With the support of my darling “Doña Elizabyth”, I chose to recreate the recipes in this magnificent novel.
The first dish I challenged myself to make was Chiles en Nogada (Stuffed Poblano Chiles with Walnut Sauce) using the recipe featured in the book. In the story, Tita, our heroine, makes this dish for her niece’s wedding (which meant the amounts of each ingredient in the original recipe were quite sizable). Otherwise, it is a fairly straightforward recipe. So, after doing some math to recalculate the amounts, I whipped up my first batch.
The first time I made Chile en Nogada, it turned out quite nicely. But once I’d mastered the recipe, I decided to have a little fun and change things up a bit. Why? Because what sparks my creativity is when I can take something and make it my own by truly making it my own.
Chile en Nogada is a fairly labor intensive dish, so I would recommend that you save this for the weekend when you have a few hours to commit to the process. But it is also beautiful in its presentation and will be sure to elicit a reaction.
The recipe calls for poblano chiles, three different types of nuts, four different types of fruit, ground steak, citron, cheese and spices. The first thing I set about doing was getting all the ingredients together. Everything was going fine until I got to the citron. As this was summer and not the season for baking fruitcakes, I couldn’t find it anywhere, except online. Not wanting to wait for a delivery from Amazon, I decided to make my own citron, since it’s a pretty straightforward process. I sliced an orange peel into thin slices and cooked them in a two to one sugar water mixture until they were candied. I transferred them to a wire rack to cool and, voila, I had myself more citron than I knew what to do with.
I fired up the grill and roast the poblanos until they were uniformly black and the skin was peeling off. I purchased good-sized chiles so that each stuffed poblano would be enough for one serving (which also meant I had fewer to peel). After they cooled, I peeled and seeded them without taking the stem off and set them aside.
Next, I did all of the prep work for the filling that would go inside the chilies. I put the cashews and the almonds into my mini food processor and chopped them until they were moderately small pieces. I did the same thing to the citron. The original recipe calls for raisins, but I used dried cranberries instead. This added a nice tanginess as well as some more color to the dish. Slicing each of the dried cranberries in half was a bit labor-intensive, but in the end, well worth it. I then peeled, cored and pitted my tomatoes, a honey crisp apple and a peach. I diced those into small pieces and set those aside. Finally, I minced a small sweet onion and measured out all of my spices.
I ground my walnuts for the sauce in the food processor and set them aside. I found that by grinding them very finely – almost to a dust like consistency – the sauce came together wonderfully. It was very creamy and the walnut flavors shone through rather boldly.
In the book, Tita used ground steak in her recipe. I substituted ground turkey instead because it has less fat, a lot less grease and is generally healthier. The ground turkey worked quite well and once all the ingredients were combined, there really wasn’t any noticeable difference taste-wise. I cooked the turkey in a large sauté pan until it was thoroughly done and then removed it from the heat and drained it. I added a splash of olive oil to the pan and added my nuts until they were browned. Next I stirred in the onion and cooked it until it was translucent. I next added the fruit, citron and tomatoes, along with the turkey and spices and simmered it, covered, at low heat for about 15 minutes.
While the filling cooked, I made the walnut sauce by combining the ground walnuts with the cream and cheese in my blender until thick and smooth. I set that aside while I prepared the chiles. After stuffing the poblanos with the filling, I arranged them on a large platter and ladled the walnut sauce generously over them. I sprinkled them with pomegranate seeds right before serving. Doña Elizabyth said that the first time was very good but this second time was magic… And yes, I beamed with pride, knowing I had surpassed her culinary expectations.
Chile en Nogada
8 poblano chiles
pomegranate seeds for garnish
16 whole cashews
1 lb ground turkey
6 almonds (raw)
2-3 roma tomatoes (depending on the size)
1/2 small sweet onion (I like walla wallas)
1 piece citron
1 small peach
1 small apple (I used a honey crisp)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 1/2 tsp sugar
16 walnut halves
1/2 cup aged fresh cheese (I use queso panela)
1/2 cup heavy cream