Chiles in Nut Sauce (Chiles en Nogada)
This dish is best made in the late Summer or early Autumn, if you are a North American or pretty well anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Pomegranates and poblano chiles are at the peak of their seasons then. And this turned out to be a tough one to perfect, as I anticipated.
6 poblano chiles
Lightly coat chiles with olive oil (please use your hands – it’s not that bad, you know?), salt and white pepper, then roast chiles in a 350° F. oven until skin is just softened. Do not scorch them, not even a little, about 10 or 12 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
6 to 7 ounces ground steak
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 peach, pitted and diced
1 apple, cored and diced
2 tablespoons dark raisins, soaked in tequila
2 medium-sized, very ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Heat a 12-inch sauté pan, then add 2 teaspoons of olive oil, swirling the pan to coat evenly. Sauté the onions until transparent, then add the spices and ground meat. Cook until the meat is well browned, then add the fruits, tomatoes and salt. Simmer slowly for about 15 or 20 minutes, until fruits are tender and flavours are combined. Set aside and let cool.
2 ounces almonds, blanched and lightly toasted
2 ounces walnuts, blanched and lightly toasted
20 roasted cashew nuts (salted will work)
5 tablespoons aged fresh cheese (cotija is nice)
1 cup cream
In a food processor, add nuts and cream and pulse until it becomes sauce-like. Add cheese and continue pulsing to combine. Place into a sauce pan on very low heat. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
Carefully slice each chile lengthwise on one side, making as short a cut as possible to remove seeds and pith (which you must do). Stuff each chile with the filling until it looks almost as though it were a fresh chile again, but after a majour operation.
Place into a lightly-oiled baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes, until heated through.
Seeds of 1 pomegranate*
On each plate, place the chile on what will be the left side of the plate, then place a good swatch of pomegranate seeds on the right side. Spoon enough nut sauce across the middle of the plate to make it look similar to the Mexican flag.
If you want to get really fancy, ask your favourite chocolatier to create small (about 1-1/2 inch diameter) chocolate eagles, similar to the symbol in the centre of the flag.
* Note: Because of the time of year (May) when I first tried making this recipe, I used a peeled, sliced and seeded mango soaked in a mixture of cooking liquid of one beet, 1 tablespoon of honey and juice of one lime. I marinated for two hours and set the slices on the right side of the plate.