The dish that tastes like Mexican history: Chile en nogada

In Mexican gastronomy, there is a dish that represents the history of Mexico. The colors give it away, the flavor distinguishes it and its elaboration wins the love.

The dish that tastes like Mexican history: Chile en nogada
Chiles en nogada: the community of San Andrés Calpan, Puebla, is the cradle of this delicacy. Photo: Flickr

In Mexican gastronomy, there is a dish that represents the history of Mexico. The colors give it away, the flavor distinguishes it and its elaboration, makes you fall in love. Eating a chile en nogada, a seasonal delicacy of August and September is savoring a piece of the country. A divine ecstasy, as some Mexicans define this dish that is an icon of Mexican cuisine that can be tasted in August and September, the season in which all its ingredients can be found.

The dish consists of roasted and peeled poblano peppers, a filling of minced beef or pork, tomato, onion, garlic, nuts, almonds, pine nuts, and spices. They are bathed in a walnut sauce and decorated with the fleshy crimson seeds of pomegranate and parsley leaves. The community of San Andrés Calpan, the state of Puebla, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of the country's capital, is the cradle of this delicacy, whose origin dates back to the early days of Mexican Independence (1810-1821).

"It is a 100 % poblano traditional dish," says Guadalupe Medina, a cook originally from San Andrés Calpan. "Its decoration is based on the white walnut, the red pomegranate, and the parsley that represents the flag of Mexico," she says. The ingredients that make this dish possible are cultivated on the slopes of the Popocatepetl volcano. "In these lands are cultivated the Creole peach, the milk pear, the apple biscuit, the native poblano chile and the walnut of Castile", points out the director of Tourism of this region, Antonio de Castilla.

The star ingredient of the dish is, without doubt, the walnut, made from the walnut of Castile. The director of Tourism points out that Calpan is the "cradle of the walnut of Castile", and was the region that received the first walnuts in the American continent. Although in each kitchen the seasoning and some ingredients change, the preparation follows, broadly speaking, the same patterns. First, the poblano chiles must be roasted and peeled, with care so that they do not break, since they will later be stuffed.

The traditional way is for the whole family to participate, so while one person roasts the chiles, the rest prepares the filling by chopping all the ingredients. The last step is usually the elaboration of the walnut. The contrast of sweet and salty flavors and aromas is produced above all in the chili filling, where the ground meat is mixed with the fruits, tomato, garlic, onion, almonds, raisins, and even nuts. Once cooked over low heat, stuff the chiles. The final touch is walnut, made with local walnuts. The decoration is the patriotic touch of the dish, adding grains of pomegranate and some parsley leaves.

From the age of 9, Faustina prepares chili peppers in walnut sauce. At 58, she is known in the region for her seasoning. "The people who come tell me that the seasoning is the best of the whole fair," says Doña Tina, as she is known. She thanks God for her culinary experience and takes the opportunity to invite to the traditional Feria del Chile en Nogada de Calpan. This year, Faustina was awarded as "best-seasoned cook" at the traditional Chile Fair in Nogada, which is held in August and attracts an annual average of 170,000 visitors.

This year, in its sixteenth edition, the 50 exhibitors from the region are expected to prepare more than 170,000 chilies in walnut, for which up to 200 tons of peach and walnut and 80 tons of apple and pear will be used. The cost of this dish ranges from 150 to 250 pesos (between 8 and 13 dollars), depending on the size. "We remove the middleman and work directly with the consumer," says Antonio Castilla, which makes costs in this region are lower. "Every year we come and take chili peppers to Oaxaca, it's a wonderful presentation, to see our colors represented on a plate," says Concepción Galindo, originally from the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

The origin of this recipe dates back to 1821; the most popular versions point out that the nuns of the convent of Santa Monica, in Puebla, were the creators of this dish for General Agustín de Iturbide on the occasion of his birthday on August 28. The Augustinian nuns decided to create a dish with the three colors of the flag and with the ingredients of that season to celebrate the signing of the Treaties of Cordoba in the City of Cordoba, Veracruz on August 24, 1821.