According to chef Salvador Fernández, every Mexican dish comes with a story.
The story behind chiles en nogada, or peppers in a nut sauce, is one of pride and patriotism. The dish was created by the Augustinian nuns of Puebla to celebrate General Augustin Iturbide, who led the country’s fight for independence from Spain. Its vibrant colors — green, white and red — also give a nod to Mexico’s tri-color flag. It is traditionally eaten during the month of September, when Mexico celebrates its Independence Day.
For Fernandez, a Puebla native, this dish recalls memories of his grandmother and mother and a gaggle of grandkids gathered in the kitchen preparing each step of the labor intensive stuffed peppers.
I spent time making this dish with Fernández, who hosted me through Traveling Spoon, a site that connects home chefs with travelers. Read more about how it works here. Fernández is also a teacher at The Little Mexican Cooking School in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, about a half hour’s drive from the Cancun airport.
This dish traditionally is made with a particular type of Mexican pecans, which would have been in season when this dish was first created, and not almonds. But it’s been adapted here using almonds that are easily accessible.
Chiles en Nogada de Almendra
From chef Salvador Fernández
8 poblano peppers, or chiles
About 1 1/3 pounds ground beef
1 cup diced roman Tomato
1 white onion
2 garlic cloves
3/4 cup raisins
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin
1 ounce butter
18 ounces almonds
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sour cream
3.5 ounces goat cheese.
sea salt and allspice
orange and lime zest
1. Toast all the poblano peppers direct to fire; try to “burn” or char all sides of the skin. When this is done, put them in a plastic bag and let it rest for 15 minutes. Doing this we can remove the burned skin faster.
2. Using olive oil and butter, start cooking diced white onion and minced garlic cloves for three minutes; continue with ground meat until you get a golden nice color.
3. Add all the fruits and tomatoes in dices and cook for three more minutes. Add zest of orange and lime to this and keep cooking on medium high heat.
4. Season this with, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cloves, raisins, cumin, 1/3 cup almonds without the brown skin, sea salt and allspice. Keep cooking 10 more minutes on medium low heat or until the mixture is cooked and looks dry. Reserve.
5. Open the plastic bag and take out the toasted poblano peppers, remove the skin using a knife. Be careful! You can put holes the pepper’; we want to keep them whole.
6. With the skin off, make a slice in one side of the pepper and use a spoon to remove seeds. Be careful again, they are very fragile.
7. Stuff all the peppers with the ground beef and fruits that now is ready. Reserve.
8. Boil water and then add almonds for 3 minutes to soft the skin. Then using your fingers remove the brown skin of all the almonds, and reserve.
9. Blend almonds milk, goat cheese, sea salt and allspice and one tablespoon of olive oil, then combine with sour cream. Texture in this sauce must to be tick enough to cover the stuffed peppers. Keep this mixture cold.
10. Place a warm stuffed poblano pepper in the center of a platter, then cover all with the almond and cheese sauce, nogada.
11. Garnish with pomegranate grains and parsley leafs.
12. Serve immediately.