Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day; it celebrates the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, which came after Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Civil War. In our neighbor to the south, the holiday is mainly celebrated in the region of Puebla, and mostly in the state’s capital city of the same name.
Cinco de Mayo, as celebrated in the United States, shares some similarities to St. Patrick’s Day: a mainstream marketing gimmick that evolved out of an authentic celebration of cultural heritage. The typical Cinco de Mayo is a day of eating tacos and drinking margaritas. But, just like you won’t find corned beef and green beer in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, you won’t find ground beef tacos, nachos and frozen margaritas in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo.
Before Spanish explorers and immigrants swarmed Mexico, Puebla was already a culinary capital. The sacred town of Cholula known for its great pre-Colombian pyramid was also home to pre-Columbian street food. In this ancient city, vendors would set up outside the pyramid to feed those who came to worship.
After arriving in Puebla, the Spanish settled close to Cholula and created what is known today as the city of Puebla. Religion was a major aspect of Spanish conquest and convents and monasteries were set up across the city. Spanish nuns invented many of Puebla and Mexico’s most cherished dishes in these convents by integrating old world traditions with new world ingredients.
An authentic dish that can be served is Chiles en nogada, an iconic dish of Mexico. It is said to have been invented in the convent of Santa Monica for Agustin de Iturbide‘s visit to Puebla in 1821. Agustín de Iturbide was Mexico’s first emperor after Mexico won independence from Spain. He was served chiles en nogada in Puebla while traveling back to Mexico City from Veracruz after signing the Treaty of Cordoba, which gave Mexico its independence.
The dish signifies Mexico’s independence and is made up of the colors of the Mexican flag; red, white and green. The flavors are just as colorful as the ingredients. The sweet, savory, picadillo stuffed poblano pepper dipped in egg batter, fried, and topped with a rich walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds and parsley is something you will not regret. Though it is more traditionally made for Mexico’s Independence Day,, rather than Cinco de Mayo, it is one of Puebla’s most cherished dishes.
In making this dish, it is highly recommend to roast the pork the night before you want to make the dish. You might also want to chop all the fruit so the picadillo is quick and easy to assemble. Also note that the walnuts should be soaked in milk overnight.
Makes 12 chiles
12 poblano chiles
For the Picadillo:
2 pounds boneless pork butt
1 tablespoon lard
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon all-spice
2 small white onions chopped
1 green apple
1 ripe yellow plantain
2 firm yellow peaches
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup Jerez Sherry Fino
zest of one lemon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
For the Nogada Sauce:
1 cup milk
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup queso fresco
2 tablespoons Jerez Sherry Fino
For the Capeado (optional):
10 eggs, separated
1/4 cup flour
Pomegranate nibs, for garnish
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
For Chiles and Picadillo: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place 1 tablespoon lard in a oven-proof skillet, and heat on medium-high until rippling. Add the cinnamon, cloves and all-spice, toasting for 1 minute. Add the pork roast and sear on all sides until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Add 2 cups water and one white onion chopped and simmer for 5 minutes. Put into the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let rest for 30 minutes. Cut pork into a quarter-inch dice. Set aside.
Meanwhile, chop all the apple, peaches and plantain into a quarter-inch dice. Soak the golden raisins in the sherry. Set aside.
Roast the poblano chiles on an open flame or under the broiler until blistered and blackened — 3 minutes per side if over a flame, 5 minutes per side if under a broiler. Tightly wrap the chiles in a clean dry towel and let them “sweat” for 15 minutes. When chiles are cool enough to handle, gently remove blistered skin. Cut a slit in the side of the chile and carefully remove seeds.
Roast the tomatoes on a cast-iron comal or under the broiler until blishered and blackened and so flesh yields to touch. Peel off the skin, core and puree in a blender. Set aside.
In a large skillet, on medium-high heat melt butter. Add the chopped pork. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the remaining onion. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 3 more minutes. Add the chopped apple, peaches, plantains, lemon zest and raisins and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Finally add the tomato puree, salt to taste and simmer on low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Stuff each chile with about 1/4 cup picadillo filling, so the chiles are full but not bursting at the seams.
To make the Sauce: Soak the walnuts in the milk overnight. Place the walnuts, milk, sherry, queso fresco, salt and sugar in a blender and process until a smooth, slightly thick sauce forms. If you prefer a thin sauce add more milk.
(Optional) Capear/Lamprear: Let eggs come to room temperature. Meanwhile, lightly coat each stuffed chile with flour. Separate yolks and whites. In a clean bowl or blender beat egg whites until very fluffy. Gently fold the yolk into the whites. Heat a pan with 1/4 cup vegetable oil or lard until rippling. Dip each floured chile in to the batter and place in hot oil, cook on each side until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels. (See: How to Lamprear video by Zarela.)
Garnish and Serve: Place the chiles on a platter and pour the nogada suace over them. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and parsley for garnish.