Though Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain on September 16, the festivities really begin the day before. Every year, on September 15th, the Zócalo, or main square in every Mexican city is draped in Mexico's colors of green, white and red. There are fireworks; special foods; flowers; parades; music; vendors on every street corner selling flags, flowers, papier-mache helmets, horns, whistles, balloons, etc.
In Mexico City, at 11:00 p.m., the crowd becomes silent as the president of Mexico steps out on the palace balcony, and rings the historic bell that Father Hidalgo rang to call the people to revolution. Then the president gives the Grito de Dolores. He shouts "¡Viva Mexico!" and "¡Viva la independencia!" and the crowd roars the words back at him. Seriously, it gives even a gringa like me goosebumps!
This call is duplicated in every city throughout Mexico by the alcalde/mayor and the festivities begin. Fiestas celebrating independence take place that night and the next day throughout Mexico. The 16th is a day full of music, bullfights, rodeos, parades, more fireworks and plenty of dancing, food and drink.
As is true of all major holidays in Mexico, women often spend hours preparing special foods for the occasion. If you can wrangle an invitation to a Mexican friend's home, Dia de Independencia is a great day to do it.
One of my favorite dishes that is often served during this holiday is the lovely and delicious Chiles en Nogada (Chiles in Walnut Sauce). It consists of poblano chiles filled with "picadillo" (a mixture usually containing chopped or ground meat, aromatics, fruits, and spices) topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds, giving it the three colors of the Mexican flag. With wonderful flavors and texture, it is a Mexican Independence day favorite, and one of my favorites, too. Here is how to fix it.
CHILES EN NOGADA: CHILES IN WALNUT SAUCE
- 6 large green poblano chiles, for stuffing
- 3/4 cup crema or sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
- Seeds from 1 or 2 pomegranates, depending on your personal tastes
- 1/2 lb ground pork or beef
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/4 of an onion, peeled and diced
- 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
- 1 apple, peeled, cored and seeded, coarsely chopped
- 1 peach, pitted, peeled and chopped
- 2 tablespoons unsalted almonds, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1 bunch fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons raisins, softened in warm water
- 3 eggs, separated
Roast the chiles and remove the skins and seeds. Pat them dry and set aside (Note: the batter won't stick to them properly if they aren't dry)
For the Filling (Picadillo): Heat the oil or lard over medium heat in a large pan. Saute the beef or pork and brown until nearly done. Add in the garlic, onion, apple, peach, almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, pinch of salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, fill the chiles, dividing the mixture evenly among them.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks with a mixer or a whisk. Lightly beat the egg yolks and gently fold them into the egg whites with a pinch of salt. Carefully dip each stuffed chile in the egg mixture, turning to coat evenly. Place in a large skillet with hot oil and fry them until golden on the bottom side. Turn and fry on the other side, then remove from skillet to drain on paper towels. Place each one on a separate dinner plate.
For the Walnut Sauce:
Soak walnuts in cold milk overnight. When you are ready to make the sauce, place the whole walnut meats into a food processor container fitted with the chopping blade. Chop walnuts until fine but not powdered. Set aside. Place the crema and sugar in a blender or food processor with the evaporated milk and puree untill smooth. Then mix in the chopped walnuts. By doing it this way, you help prevent the sauce from taking on the creamier color of the walnuts, ending up with a nice white color.
Pour the sauce over the chiles, and decorate with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley. Serve immediately with a garden salad on the side and plenty of warm tortillas.
NOTE: You want a good distribution of walnuts throughout the sauce, and if they are ground too finely the sauce will have a bit of a gritty feel in your mouth. You don't want that. So chop them finely, as I said above, but don't pulverize them into powder.
NOTE 2: For the filling, approach it in the same way as you would a good Thanksgiving stuffing. You want to maintain a pleasing balance between the savory (the meat, garlic and onions, etc.) and the sweet (the fruit and walnuts). You don't want it too sweet, and you want the different textures to be noticeable. And don't skimp on the pomegranate seeds!
Serve with Mexican rice, a garden salad and plenty of warm tortillas.
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