“Mexico City, 1910. Elegant Mexicans eat in French. They prefer the crêpe to its poor relation of native birth, the corn tortilla. Oeufs en cocotte to the humble huevos rancheros. They find béchamel sauce more worthy than guacamole, that delicious but excessively indigenous mixture of avocados, tomatoes, and chile. Faced with foreign peppers or Mexican chiles, the gentry rejected the chile, although later they sneak back to the family kitchen and devour it secretly, ground or whole, side dish or main dish, stuffed or plain, unpeeled or naked.” –Eduardo Galeano, Memory of Fire
French cooking left its mark on many Mexican-restaurant dishes. French-inspired Mexican dishes include chiles en nogada (stuffed chiles in a walnut sauce), and conejo en mostaza (rabbit in mustard sauce).
Chiles en Nogada
(Fruit-Stuffed Poblanos Without Walnuts)
Here is a version of stuffed chiles, this one courtesy of Zarela Martinez from Zarelas Restaurant in New York City, who says that her recipe is based on the classic one served on national holidays in Mexico. She, however, bakes the chiles instead of deep frying them and eliminates the walnuts that give the dish its name and the chicken. No matter–Zarela says the dish is “one of our most beloved at Zarela.” For a more authentic, French-influenced, version, add 1/2 cup ground almonds to the salsa and garnish the servings with pomegranate seeds.
Salsa de Tomate Asado:
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 medium onion, unpeeled and halved crosswise
3 to 4 large tomatoes (2 and 3/4 pounds)
Salt to taste
The Stuffed Poblanos:
6 large green poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, stems left on
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, sliced
3/4 cup each pitted prunes, dried apricots, and dried peaches, diced
1 stick unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed, ground
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, Ceylon preferred
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Salt to taste
To make the Tomate Asado, in a small saucepan, simmer the cream until reduced to about 1 cup.
In a large skillet or griddle, roast the garlic cloves and the onion over high heat, turning several times, until the garlic is dark on all sides and somewhat softened, and the onion is partly charred. Add the tomatoes and roast until the skins start coming off.
Peel the garlic, onions, and tomatoes and place into a blender. It’s okay if a few charred bits get into the mixture. Puree on medium speed until smooth. Add the cream and repeat. Season with salt to taste and keep warm.
To make the stuffed poblanos, melt the butter in a sauce pan and saute the onion and garlic until the onion is soft. Add the olives and the fruits and continue to saute until the fruits are soft. Add the spices and cook 1 more minute. Adjust for salt.
Carefully fill the chiles with the mixture and bake on a greased baking sheet for 7 minutes at 350 degrees F.
To serve, spoon the Salsa de Tomate Asado on individual plates and place one chile on each plate over the salsa.
Yield: 6 servings
Heat Scale: Mild
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