Chiles en Nogada
Stuffed Chiles with Walnut Sauce

Reprinted with permission from Cocina de la Familia: More Than 200 Authentic Recipes from Mexican-American Home Kitchens by Marilyn Tausend with Miguel Ravago.
Copyright © Fireside, Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY.
Adapted by StarChefs

This festive dish, resplendent with the colors of the Mexican flag, is traditionally served on September 16 in honor of Mexico's Independence Day, though it is popular anytime in the late summer and fall when the walnuts are fresh and the pomegranates abundant. During August and September in the highlands of Mexico, particularly in Mexico City and Puebla on the streets bordering the markets, village women can be seen sitting on blankets painstakingly peeling off the brown skin from each individual walnut. It is important to use the freshest walnuts as possible, as they produce such a creamy, rich sauce that it is worth the effort demanded to peel them.

For the Meat

  • 2 pounds beef brisket or other stew meat or 1 pound beef and 1 pound pork butt
  • 1 small white onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • about 1 Tablespoon sea salt

For the Picadillo

  • 4 Tablespoons safflower or canola oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped white onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (cassia)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 heaping Tablespoons raisins
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped candied acitrón or candied pineapple
  • 1 fresh pear, peeled and chopped
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped
  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes roasted, peeled and chopped, or 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with juice
  • kosher salt to taste

For the Chiles

  • 6 fresh poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, and seeded, leaving the stem intact

For the Walnut Sauce

  • 1 cup fresh walnuts
  • 6 ounces cream cheese (not fat free) at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups Mexican crema or 1-1/4 cups sour cream thinned with milk
  • about 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (cassia) (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry (optional)

For the Garnish

  • 1 Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Cut the meat into large chunks, removing any excess fat. Place the meat into a large Dutch oven with the onion, garlic, and salt. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim off any foam that collects on the surface. Lower the heat and allow the water to simmer about 45 minutes, until the meat is just tender. Take the pot off the stove and let the meat cool in the broth. Remove the pieces of meat and finely shred them. (If making stuffed chiles with a tomato sauce rather than the walnut sauce, save the broth.)

Warm the oil in a large, heavy skillet and sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat until they turn a pale gold. Stir in the shredded meat and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cinnamon, pepper, and cloves, then, stir in the raisins, the 2 Tablespoons chopped walnuts, and the candied acitrón. Add the chopped pear and apple, and mix well. Add the tomatoes and salt to taste, and continue cooking over medium-high heat until most of the moisture has evaporated. Stir often so that the mixture doesn't stick. Let cool, cover, and set aside. The picadillo may be made 1 day in advance.

Make a slit down the side of each chile, just long enough to remove the seeds and veins. Keep the stem end intact. Drain the chiles on absorbent paper until completely dry. Cover and set aside. The chiles may be prepared 1 day in advance.

At least 3 hours in advance, place the 1 cup walnuts in a small pan of boiling water. Remove from the heat and let them sit for 5 minutes. Drain the nuts and, when cool, rub off as much of the dark skin as possible. Chop into small pieces. Place the nuts, cream cheese, crema, and salt in a blender and purée thoroughly. Stir in the optional sugar, cinnamon, and sherry, if using, until thoroughly combined. Chill for several hours.

Preheat the oven to 250ºF. When ready to serve, reheat the meat filling and stuff the chiles until plump and just barely closed. Put the filled chiles, covered, to warm in the oven. After they are thoroughly heated, place the chiles on a serving platter or on individual plates, cover with the chilled walnut sauce, and sprinkle with the parsley and pomegranate seeds.

Ingredient Notes:

Acitrón is crystallized biznaga cactus and comes in bars a little smaller than a cube of butter. I have found it in the United States only in heavily Mexican-populated areas such as Chicago and Los Angeles, but when you go to Mexico, you can buy some a t any large city candy store, including at the Mexico City airport. If you can't find it, candied pineapple is an acceptable substitute, but don't use citron, a preserved citrus fruit that has a decidedly different taste and texture and is best kept for y our seasonal fruitcake.

Poblano chiles are commonly found in most grocery stores these days, but unfortunately are often incorrectly labeled pasilla chiles, which are a dried red chile. The chile you are looking for is a large fresh chile with very broad shoulders and is perfect for stuffing. The easiest way to roast chiles is to place them directly in or over the flame of a gas stove for about five minutes, turning with tongs as they char and blister on all sides. The idea is to char the skin, but barely cook the flesh. The chiles can also be roasted on a very hot charcoal or gas grill as close to the coals as possible and although not recommended they can be broiled close to a preheated electric element, turning occasionally. After the chiles are roasted, put them in a pa per or plastic bag and let them sit for about five minutes before removing the skin. Use your hands to rub, pick and/or peel the skin away and if necessary rinse the chiles quickly under water. It is fine if some of the charred bits of skin remain. Slice open one side of the chiles and cut and scrape out the membrane with its seeds. Now they are ready to stuff.

Marilyn Tausend, author of Mexico the Beautiful, Cocina de la Familia: More than 200 Authentic Recipes from Mexican American Home Kitchens, and most recently, Savoring Mexico, has spent a lifetime studying and cooking Mexican food. In 1987, she founded Culinary Adventures, Inc., which specializes in culinary tours of Mexico. For more information on Marilyn Tausend, her cookbooks, or Culinary Adventures, Inc., check out her website at www.MarilynTausend.com.