The whole month of September is a big party: the Fiestas Patrias (National Celebrations). Here, a street stand offering Mexican flags, hanging banners, and a lot of small Independence-related items for sale.
Mexico celebrates its independence during the entire month of September with parades, parties, and traditional food and drink in restaurants and at home. The traditional festive dish during the weeks before and after the Independence Day holiday is chiles en nogada, a magnificent tribute to the seasonal availability of granadas (pomegranates) and fresh nuez de Castilla (walnuts). From late August till early October, fresh pomegranates and frsh walnuts make chiles en nogada possible. Mildly spicy chiles poblano, stuffed with picadillo and topped with richly creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds, flaunt the brilliant green, white and red of the Mexican flag.
Chiles en nogada: chiles poblano, roasted, peeled, stuffed with picadillo (in this case, a fruity Mexican hash), and plated with walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds, and fresh cilantro.
festive dish is
traditionally served on September 15 or 16 in honor of Mexico's
Independence Day, though it is popular anytime in the late summer and
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 recently harvested walnuts, the freshest possible, as they produce such a creamy, rich sauce that it is
worth the effort demanded to peel them. Yes, the recipe is time-consuming...but you and your guests will jump up and shout "VIVA!" when you've licked the platters clean.
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 large cloves garlic
- about 1 Tablespoon sea salt
For the Picadillo
- 4 Tablespoons safflower or canola oil
- 1/3 cup chopped white onion
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3 heaping Tablespoons raisins
- 1 or 2 chiles serrano, finely minced
- 2 Tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans
- 2 Tablespoons chopped candied pineapple
- 1 fresh pear, peeled and chopped
- 1 apple, peeled and chopped
- 1 large potato, peeled and diced
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes, roasted, peeled and chopped
- sea salt to taste
For the Chiles
- 6 fresh chiles poblano , roasted, peeled, and seeded, leaving the stem intact
- 1 cup fresh walnuts (available only at this time of the year)
- 6 ounces doble crema or cream cheese (not fat free) at room temperature
- 1-1/2 cups crema mexicana or 1-1/4 cups sour cream thinned with milk
- about 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup dry sherry (optional)
For the Garnish
- 1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh 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.
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. Add the chopped pear, apple, and potato, 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 a day or two 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 paper towels until they are completely dry. Cover and set aside. The chiles may be prepared a day in advance.
At least 3 hours in advance, place the 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 the nuts 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.
When ready to serve, reheat the meat filling and stuff the chiles until plump and just barely closed. Place the chiles on a serving platter or on individual plates, cover with the chilled walnut sauce, and sprinkle with the cilantro and pomegranate seeds.
This dish can also be served at room temperature, or it may be served chilled.
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