Whenever I see a photograph of the red, white and green Chiles en Nogada, I think it is one of the most attractive dishes around. I always hesitated to prepare it, though, because the recipe called for so many ingredients and it looked complicated. Of course, it is all of those fruits and nuts and spices that blend together to create the intricate sabor of so many authentic Mexican favorites.
The flavor of Chiles en Nogada is a unique and delectable combination of sweet, spicy and savory. Made with lower fat and natural ingredients, this once rich treat becomes a true pleasure without much guilt involved.
You might guess that the word nogada translate to nougat since it is a rough cognate. When the walnuts and almonds are blended to make the sauce, the results do resemble what we think of as nougat. This festive recipe was invented by the nuns of the Santa Monica in Puebla to honor the visit of Agustin de Iturbide, who signed the Treaty of Cordoba which gave Mexico its independence from Spain. The locals made the gorgeous stuffed chile out of ingredients that were in season in the region in August and September. The dish is usually also consumed around this time of the year, as Agustin de Iturbide’s saints’ day is August 28th, but can be eaten at any time of the year now that the ingredients are readily available.
As I set out to do a makeover of this famous recipe that has become popular to eat around Mexican Independence Day, I realized that it wasn’t as difficult to make as I once thought. By taking the meat out of the filling and replacing it with black beans and quinoa, the picadillo not only became healthier but also less time consuming to prepare. Quinoa, also known as Inca rice, has been consumed in South America for three to four thousand years. It is considered a pseudocereal because it doesn’t grow as a grass, but instead is in the same family as beet root and spinach. Quinoa has been recognized recently as a superfood because it is a high fiber complete protein that aids in cell regeneration and contains more essential minerals than corn, wheat or barley. The manganese, magnesium, iron and B2 in quinoa help to energize the body.
The list of ingredients in this recipe is long, but by tackling each task individually, putting this work of culinary art together becomes enjoyable. The pasilla chiles can be roasted, peeled and stored overnight or even for a few days in the refrigerator. The picadillo can be made ahead of time and refrigerated as well, and any picadillo that is left over goes great on top of a bed of baby spinach and mixed greens for a lunchtime treat.
4 Pasilla chiles, roasted and peeled
4 slices of meltable cheese such as Oaxaca (optional)
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (for garnish)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (for garnish)
Picadillo Filling Ingredients:
1 cup raw red quinoa
1 can all-natural black beans
1 apple, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (or use less, to taste)
4 dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup dried raisins
1 spear pineapple, chopped
1 tsp. garlic powder or 1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. cumin
Sea salt or Pink Himalayan salt and pepper to taste, if desired
Nogada Sauce Ingredients:
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup sour cream
1. Roast pasilla chiles (also known as Poblanos) over an open gas flame or on top of a very hot comal (flat skillet.)
2. Cool the chiles until they are easy to touch. Peel or rub the blackened skin off the entire surface of the chiles. Be careful to keep the chiles intact as much as possible.
3. Boil the quinoa according to the directions on the package.
4. Chop the fruits and vegetables into small chunks while the quinoa is cooking.
5. Drain the can of black beans. Combine the beans with the quinoa, chopped fruits and vegetables and spices.
6. Carefully slice the chiles open on one side, making a cut from one inch below the stem and stopping one inch above the bottom.
7. You do not have to remove the seeds, and it is probably easier to leave them inside as there is less chance of tearing the chile. Once sliced open, spoon two tablespoons of picadillo into the chile. You can also add a slice of cheese if desired.
8. Separate 4 eggs. Place the whites in a large mixing bowl and the yolks in a smaller bowl.
9. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed. Then fold in the yolks gradually.
10. Place 1/2 cup of coconut oil in a non-stick skillet and heat on a medium flame.
11.. Holding the open side of the chiles together, dip each chile in the egg mixture and then, one by one, place in the skillet. You do not need to coat the chiles in flour first. The egg mixture will stick if you skip that step.
12. Fry the chiles until golden brown on the outside. To brown every side of the chile, use a spoon to drizzle oil from the pan over the sides of the chile.
13. Remove chiles from the skillet and drain once they turn golden brown.
14. Place all of the Nogada Sauce ingredients in a blender and run on high speed until a smooth sauce is created.
15. Place each chile on its own plate. Spoon Nogada Sauce over the chiles. until covered. Top with fresh cilantro leaves and pomegranate seeds.
16. Take a picture of this beautiful chile, then enjoy!
Note: The picadillo recipe is a perfect place to express your own creativity. Add a chopped tomato or more spices if you like the filling more savory. Follow your instincts and add other vegetables. Chunks of nopales would work well in this mixture, I’m sure.