Thursday, April 9, 2009

An all around favorite: Chiles Rellenos....

Since I am in THE place where Chiles Rellenos were created, I'll give you a little bit of background on how these came about:

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a number of European immigrants came to the city, mainly from Germany, Italy, France and Spain. Today, the Colonia Humboldt neighborhood shows the influence of the local German population in its architecture, traditions and festivals like the local Oktoberfest, as well as in the town of Chipilo, now absorbed by the metropolitan area of the city, where people speak a dialect of Venetian known as the Chipilo Venetian dialect. The folkloric Mexican women's dress known as China Poblana was created in Puebla. Also, the "Talavera Poblana" is a fine earthenware of colonial origin still made in the city. It's a motif unique to Puebla; dinnerware, plant pots, churches and even streets may be lined with tiles of Talavera.

Puebla is located at the Valley of Puebla also known as the Valley of Cuetlaxcoapan, a large valley surrounded on four sides by the mountains and volcanoes of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt. It is located 40 km. east of the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes, giving the residents a magnificent view of their snow-topped peaks. La Malinche dormant volcano is located to the north of the city, and the Pico de Orizaba to the east. Hydrologically, the city is part of the Atoyac river basin; the river runs through northern, eastern and southern portions of the municipality, and connects to the Lake of Valsequillo, where the Manuel Ávila Camacho dam has been built. Other rivers that cross the area are the Alseseca and San Francisco. The climate is moderated by its high altitude of 2,200m (7,000 ft) above sea-level; night temperatures are cool at all times of the year, often requiring additional clothing. The area experiences a dry season in winter and a rainy season from May-October.

Puebla's food culture, known as Cocina Poblana, is popular all over Mexico. Puebla is considered the home of Mole poblano, a rich, spicy sauce containing chocolate, cinnamon and nuts, as well as different types of hot peppers. Served with chicken, mole has become the most renowned dish of Puebla's cuisine. Camote, sweet potatoes cooked in a stove and topped with creme are a traditional sweet. Rompope is a liquor based on egg yolk and vanilla, created many years ago by Puebla's nuns. Chiles en nogada is a dish of stuffed chilies with meat, fruit, and topped with walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds; it is prepared mainly in August (during walnut harvest season). The Chalupa, a small tortilla topped with salsa, chopped onion and meat; and widely known in Mexico as a fast food is also from the city. Other traditional sweets include the sweets from Santa Clara (dulces de Santa Clara), crystallized fruits, and milk candies.

History tells that after having signed the Cordoba Treaties, ending Mexico's War of Independence and commanding the "Tricolor Army", Agustin Iturbide, with dreams of the crown of the Emperor that he would soon wear while directing his armies towards Puebla, that on the 28th of August (his birthday) of the year 1821, would receive a hero's welcome in the city with the grand parties and banquets that would be expected. The most revered nuns of the city (also famous for having created Puebla's signature dish: Mole Pobano) got the task of creating a dish of unparalled delicacy for "Emperor Iturbide" to commemorate the occasion and so "Chiles en Nogada" was born (these are the fancy version of the Chile Relleno recipe loved by all).

The dishes served would all present the vibrant colors of the Mexican flag and it is said that hundreds of colorful dishes like ceviche, ensalada de nopales con tomate, cebolla y cilantro, olives of all colors, white rice adorned with pimentos and peas, and many many more. The story goes on to say that Iturbide was afraid of being poisoned by the other factions and so didn't want to savor all the wonderful dishes until the Chiles en Nogada were presented. He was so enthralled by the dish and it's ingredients that he consumed many chiles with obvious delight to the joy of all present.

This dish is now a tradition on the day of San Agustin (August 28th) in the Church of the same name and every year many food stalls are set up, closing streets to vehicle traffic, and everyone gets to enjoy this traditional dish in the place of it's birth. Naturally you are able to savor them year round, along with the Chiles Rellenos, which is a world wide known and beloved dish. Guess where we will be on this date?

With this in mind, here's the recipes: Don't be put off by the many ingredients, this is not a hard dish to make, just takes patience and practice. Keep at it, well worth it.


4 Poblano chiles, roasted, deveined, peeled
2 lbs or 1 K ground beef (or can use 1/2 pork and 1/2 beef)
1/2 onion, chopped fine
2-3 garlic cloves, either chopped fine or through garlic press
1 tbls vegetable oil
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 tbls cilantro, chopped, leaves only
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup peeled, blanched almonds
1/2 cup green olives
1/2 cup biznaga or acitron, chopped in small cubes (a candied cactus)
1/4 cup pears, chopped in cubes (optional)
1/4 cup apples, chopped in cubes (optional)
1/4 cup prunes, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup flour

Nogada Sauce:
1 cup walnuts, chopped & peeled
1-2 cups crema fresca (or whipping cream or 1/2 sour cream and 1/2 sweet cream) or as
necessary to give the sauce consistency, you can add some milk if you like too
1/4 cup goat cheese (optional)
1/8 cup Jerez (dry Sherry, optional)
2 tbls sugar (optional)
1 bunch of cilantro or parsley, leaves only
1 pomagranate, seeded

5 eggs, yolk and white separated
1 tbls flour
oil for frying

Sauce for Chiles Rellenos: (This is a light tomato sauce with a hint of cinnamon, sweet)
1 cup tomato sauce (or boil fresh tomatoes and run through blender)
1/4-1/2 cup water
1 tbls cinnamon
1 tbls sugar
1 tsp of oregano, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
Put everything in a pan to heat, adjust seasonings and taste until you like it. Reserve. You serve this over the chile right before serving and enjoy.

Put oil in pan and bring to temperature. Put meat and cook until all pink gone and separate for ground meat. Add all the rest of the ingredients, except the chiles, tasting all the while. Stuffing should be kind of dry and not runny and should taste great by itself (this can be served as a main dish or as an all around filling for tacos, burritos, empanadas, cabbage, peppers, etc.) Let rest and cool while you prepare the chiles.

Put some flour on a flat dish. Turn the gas burner on the stove to high and put 2 chiles on it, you will turn with thongs when it begins to get charred. Once it's charred all over, put in a plastic bag to sweat so you can peel easily and let cool, about 1-2 hours or once they're easy to handle.
When they've cooled, peel the charred skin off gently (DO NOT WASH UNDER FAUCET as this will remove the flavored oils), make a slit on one side and gently take the veins and seeds out so they're clean inside and out. You can now generously stuff with the meat mixture and roll around the flour to cover, shake off excess and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks, add 1 tsp water and set aside. Beat the egg whites until you get a hard peaks, add the egg yolks and incorporate. Be sure your oil is about 2 inches deep and quite hot.

Take a large serving or cooking spoon and fill with the batter. Lay it on the oil to make an oval shape (should be puffy and the size of the chiles), let cook 1 min or until the bottom starts to firm up (you can lift a corner to check, gently)- lay a chile on top so it's sitting on this little boat until the bottom of the batter is slightly golden. Then you use a spatula in one hand, the large spoon in the other, slip the spatula under the batter boat, holding the chile with the spoon and you will flip the whole thing over to cook the other side. It becomes easier with practice but just do it and be brave. Let this cook, fill in any gaps in the batter by using the spoon and the covering batter that you turned over so it's all covered well. Let cook and get golden. You can also splash some oil all over so it's evenly cooked, be fearless but don't get burned. Once it's cooked, lift with the spatula and lay on a paper covered plate so some of the oil drains off. Do this with all the chiles.

For the Nogada sauce: Put all ingredients in the blender until you get a thick sauce consistency.
This is served over a chile all over then you put some cilantro or parsley on one end, you leave the center clear and put the pomegranate seeds on the other end so it resembles the Mexican flag and serve.

Variations: Chiles can be stuffed with literally anything, the classics are: melting cheese of any kind, shredded beef or chicken, shrimp, tuna salad, goat cheese and corn, vegetables, surimi, cochinita pibil, fish salad with pineapple, machaca, etc. These can also be served without the breading and after peeling and before filling, I set them on a dish with oil, vinegar, water, salt and pepper and oregano so they get flavored. Then I stuff them (with a cold salad with a mixture of your choice) and serve on a bed of mixed greens with vegetables and more of the vinagrette mixture (or make your own). This is a lovely hot weather lunch option my family loves.

So there you have it, yes, it looks hard but it's not really. This is like most Mexican Classic dishes, labor intensive and a multitude of ingredients- lots of hard work but the results are always worth the trouble. When I make these, which is often, I better make a lot since my family will want them for lunch and dinner and will have them until we run out. Let me know how you do with this and send me your comments.... Hope you enjoy it!

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