Chiles en Nogada or stuffed poblano peppers in walnut sauce, are a festive dish for Mexican Independence Day. They’re crazy delicious and unlike any other Mexican food you’ve ever eaten. Cook my vegetarian recipe, it’s definitely a must-try food!
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Mexican Independence Day
September is a month of celebration for Mexico, it’s when we celebrate our most important holiday: our day of independence. Which is celebrated on the 16th of September.
Today I want to share with you a recipe for a dish that embodies the rich and complex history and culture of Mexico. A dish which is a symbol of Mexican independence, chiles en nogada or stuffed poblano peppers in walnut sauce.
Who Invented The Chiles en Nogada Recipe
It’s believed that this dish was created in Puebla in 1821 by a group of nuns. It was created to honour a visitor by the name of Agustin de Iturbide. He signed the Treaty of Córdoba to gain Mexico’s independence from Spain. Señor Iturbide also went on to briefly become Emperor of Mexico.
It’s said that the nuns wanted to create a dish that included the freshest local seasonal ingredients, as well as incorporate the three colours of the Mexican flag. The green symbolising independence, white symbolising religion, and red symbolising union.
The elaborate meal had to of course include a very important ingredient to the region: Poblano peppers. Puebla is the birth place of Poblano chiles.
Puebla is also the birthplace of a Mexican stuffed pepper dish called chiles rellenos. Chiles rellenos are fire roasted poblano peppers. They are typically stuffed either cheese or meat, then dipped in beaten eggs and deep fried.
What Are Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en nogada are fire roasted poblano peppers stuffed with a mixture of minced pork, fruits, raisins, aromatic spices and either almonds or pine nuts.
The dish is covered with a creamy walnut sauce then sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.
This is a very Baroque Era dish typical of the cuisine of Mexico’s melting pot of cultures during those times.
There are countless variations to the this peppers in walnut sauce.
There are many historians that say that the first time this elaborate meal was made, the recipe was never written down but instead passed down from one generation to another simply by word of mouth.
This would explain all of the disagreements on what the actual dish that was served on that special visit included or didn’t.
Another thing to take into account is that since chiles en nogada has been part of our history for over 200 years.
Every cook is going to add a special touch. Not to mention also incorporate what is locally and seasonally available to them.
I think what matters most is that we all make an effort to stick with the tradition of preparing this meal and to pay homage to those that fought for and won our independence — so if your recipe isn’t exactly like the neighbours, it’s okay.
What Ingredients Are Used in Chiles en Nogada
The list of ingredients can be anywhere from 10 or up to 40 items. While many disagree on the traditional list of ingredients, there are some that appear to be the most common.
- fire roasted poblano peppers
- very finely chopped mixture of pork and beef (similar to minced meat)
- fruits such as apples, pears, plantain and peaches
- almonds and/or pine (nuts for stuffing)
- walnuts for the creamy sauce
- aromatic spices and some herbs
- a liquid dairy ingredient for blending the sauce
- pomegranate seeds
How to Make The Creamy Walnut Sauce or Nogada
The nogada is made using peeled walnuts, cheese, a liquid and a couple of seasonings. Typically everything is blended until perfectly smooth.
There are some variations as to which cheese to use. The most traditional recipes use goat cheese, but modern adaptations use other cheeses too.
The sauce can be made using goat cheese or queso fresco. Another very modern twist is to use cream cheese.
I personally think the goat cheese is the best to use. I enjoy how well it pairs with the rest of the ingredients.
To help blend the cheese a liquid is added. It can be to use milk, or double cream or even sour cream.
What Spices are Used for Poblano Peppers in Walnut Sauce
The spices used appear to be quite common in most recipes. They tend to be aromatic spices such as ground cinnamon, ground cloves, salt and ground black pepper.
Some herbs may also be included. Ones like Mexican oregano and thyme.
Pairing Meat with Sweet Fruits and Aromatic Spices
Having experience with cooking countless dishes from North African, Middle Eastern, and Indian Subcontinent cuisines, I didn’t find the combination of meats with fruits and aromatic spices odd.
But as far as Mexican gastronomy this is a combination that I’ve only ever seen in the filling (or picadillo) for the chiles en nogada stuffing.
This touch is of course brought to the dish from the colonial cooking techniques and ingredients that were introduced by the Spanish. I do know that the sweet-savoury combination can seem strange. But once you’ve tasted it, you’ll see how when done correctly, it really is a very complimentary combination.
Should Chiles en Nogada be Battered and Deep Fried
Some say that the stuffed pepper should be dipped in beaten eggs and fried. This is called capeado in Mexico.
Others that say that is not the case. I tend to lean on the no need to batter and fry. Simply because preparing this dish is time consuming enough one needn’t add yet another step.
What Toppings Are Used for Chiles En Nogada
At least the toppings are not something people disagree on.
First is the creamy walnut sauce, which gives us the white color for the flag. Then the pomegranate seeds for the red. Lastly finely chopped parsley for the green.
You can simply coat the stuffed pepper with the nogada sauce then sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and parsley. Or to have a little creative fun decorate it in areas to mimic the Mexican flag. (see the pictures for an example)
How to Make Vegetarian Chiles en Nogada
I love chiles en nogada so much, it’s one of my favorite all time dishes. Well that’s to say when it’s prepared nicely.
After going meatless I really didn’t want to stop eating this dish so I created a vegetarian version. I did my best to stay as true as possible to this very special and traditional dish.
In the years I’ve made it, I’ve been able to fool meat eaters. They didn’t notice it wasn’t filled with minced pork. They complimented me on that but also on the perfect balance of flavors that my dish had. So I think you too will enjoy it.
Using Meat Substitutes
For the “meat” stuffing I used rehydrated TVP, or textured vegetable protein. You can purchase it at any grocery store or health food store and of course on Amazon.
When you work with TVP the challenge can be allowing enough time for the spices and flavours to really seep into it. You can’t skip this step! This is what allows all of the flavors to come together instead of having the TVP overpower the other flavors.
I cooked the filling the night before, the next day the flavour was fantastic. TVP is amazing! It’s a fantastic meat substitute — specially for finely minced meat.
Other substitutes for the meat can include lentils, mushrooms, and even quinoa. All of which are delicious. But to truly get the most authentic or traditional feel to the dish you really should use TVP.
How to Make Vegetarian En Nogada Sauce
The traditional recipe calls for peeled fresh walnuts, but they’re more difficult to find. I don’t recommend trying to peel them yourself. This dish is difficult enough without meticulously trying to peel walnuts — it will make you crazy!
Instead just use regular shelled walnuts.
The reason the traditional recipe calls for peeled walnuts is because they are harvested in these months. When they’re still young the skin is thin and easily comes off.
There are people that say that the skin will yield a slight bitterness, but I didn’t detect that and perhaps it was because of the addition of sweetness that balanced it out. The one thing I did notice by leaving the skin was that my sauce had a slight tone. Ones made with peeled walnuts have a purely white color. But it doesn’t really matter because the flavor was still delicious.
Vegan Chiles en Nogada Option
If you want to make this dish 100% vegan I would suggest swapping out the goat cheese for almonds.
I suggest making a batch of my vegan Mexican crema recipe but omitting the lime juice. This will make the cream more neutral and be better paired with the rest of the nogada ingredients.
So you’d blend the Mexican crema with the walnuts, salt, sugar and black pepper. You will also need to add just a little bit of unflavored almond milk to the blender. Doing so until you have a smooth but gravy-like consistency.
What Do Vegetarian Chiles en Nogada Taste Like
I think that you will really love these unique flavor of chile en nogada. It’s savoury, sweet, smokey from the roasted poblanos, it’s creamy and velvety and just delicious!
Chiles en nogada is attainable Mexican haute cuisine that represents the flavours and techniques of Mexico’s Pre-Hispanic and European cuisines.
It is a marriage of all these different ingredients that perhaps at first may seem like they will not come together nicely, but in the end transform into a unique and delectable burst of awesomeness.
Chiles en nogada is not a dish you will want to cook or eat too often. It’s something that is special and a perfect treat for once or twice a year. I’ve been told that my vegetarian version are much better than some you get at restaurants.
In each bite my taste buds were met with the smooth creaminess of the walnut sauce, which you could taste the walnuts and the hints of goat cheese. And though the sauce had a touch of sugar added it wasn’t sweet, it was savoury and perfect.
The tender Poblano had those delectable tones that can only be achieved by roasting it on an open flame. Then came the scents of sweet fruits, cinnamon and aromatic cloves. You could taste the fruits which somehow weren’t overly sweet, they were tender and held their form.
Now and then were little tender crunches of almonds followed by touches of sweet raisins. Then would come a pop of pomegranate sweet-tartness and followed by the fresh herb-iness of parsley.
This is a magical combination of flavours and textures that will leaving you wanting seconds.
As we say in Mexico, buen provecho! and also Viva Mexico!
Hope my fellow Mexicanos have a fantastic celebration. The rest of you I hope you join us for some good food and fun celebrations.
Chiles En Nogada Made Vegetarian (Poblano Peppers In Walnut Sauce)
For Preparing TVP Meat Filling
- 1.5 cups or 81 grams or 2.85 oz of dry TVP granules
- 2 cups water
- 1 Tablespoon lime juice
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
Ingredients For The Filling
- 6 large Poblano peppers
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 4.65 oz white onion finely chopped (i'ts 132 grams)
- 1 Tablespoon garlic cloves
- 2 small peaches or 80 gm or 6.35 oz of peeled and evenly chopped peaches*
- 2 small granny smith apples or 231 g or 8.10 oz of peeled and evenly chopped apple*
- 2 small green pears or 225 gm or 7.90 oz of peeled and evenly chopped pear*
- 1/4 cup almonds, blanched and roughly chopped almonds 25 grams
- 1/2 cups raisins** 50 to 100 grams
- 1/2 Tablespoon Mexican cinnamon to start and adjust to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground clove to start and adjust to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 Tablespoon fine sea salt start with half then gradually add more as desired
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper adjust to taste
Ingredients for Nogada or Walnut Sauce
- 4.25 oz. walnuts buy the absolute freshest available to you & peeled if possible (120 grams)
- 1 cup media crema or substitute with full fat milk***
- 3.5 oz. plain goat cheese 100 grams
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt to start, add more to taste, I used 1/2
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- pinch ground black pepper optional
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds 134 grams
- 1.5 cup finely chopped parsley leaves amount will depend on your like or dislike of parsley
Instructions for Roasting The Poblano Peppers
- Thoroughly clean and pat dry the Poblano peppers so you can roast them. I use the open flame method on a stove top but you may also put the peppers under the broiler in your oven until their skin is nice and charr. On the stove char the chiles evenly on all sides. Once the Poblanos have been charred place inside of a plastic bag and set them aside to “sweat” so you can peel them in a bit.
How to Rehydrate TVP
- Bring the water to a boil then pour in the lime juice and the soy sauce give it a stir then carefully add the dry TVP granules. Stir the TVP around the water to help rehydrate it. Turn off the heat and set aside for 15 minutes.
- Once the TVP has been fully rehydrated, strain it over a fine sieve. Then use just a little cold water to rinse and run over the TVP to help cool it down enough for you to handle it. Once you can touch the TVP then you want to use your hands to squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. After you’ve done that, and only if the granules are large you want to roughly chop it into smaller pieces that resemble cooked ground meat. Set the TVP aside.
Instructions for Preparing the chiles en nogada:
- Heat the oil in a large pan and once hot add the onion, saute until soft and translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Next add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes, stirring often. Now add the drained TVP and stir to combine the onion and garlic into it. Mix in the bits of peach and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, then add the apple and cook another 5 minutes. Now add in the almond bits, raisins, and all of the spices from the filling ingredients list. Give the mixture a very good stir and cook for 5 minutes. Now add the pear and cook under medium heat for a further 15 minutes. At this time if the mixture starts to stick to the pan you may add a little bit of water or vegetable broth to prevent it from burning and just until the fruits release some of their juices. Give the filling mixture a taste and if needed adjust the seasoning if desired. Remove from heat.
- Now go back to the peppers and one by one use the back of a butter knife or your fingers to carefully pull off the charred skin away from each pepper. Place them on a clean plate or cutting board until you’ve finished with each chile. Once all the chiles have had their charred skin removed (you don’t need to rinse them as any little bits of charred skin will only add flavor to the dish), make a small incision in each pepper going lengthwise but stopping before you get to the tip. The incision only needs to be long enough to remove the seeds and place the stuffing inside. Now use your hands to pull out all of the seeds and any attached veins from each Poblano. After you’ve done this to all 6 chiles set them aside.
- Pour the media crema or milk or cream into the blender then add in the walnut bits and a little splash of milk or water to help get the blender going. Blend until the walnuts have completely broken down. Next add the goat cheese and blend until it is well incorporated into the sauce — if needed add a little more milk to the blender in order to achieve a smooth and creamy sauce . Add a pinch of ground black pepper and fine sea salt to your taste (I added the 1/2 teaspoon), and the 1/2 teaspoon of sugar then blend again for about 2 minutes. Now taste the walnut sauce and if needed add more sugar or salt to it if desired. Pour the sauce into a large bowl and set aside.
- Traditionally it is only one stuffed pepper per person. Carefully place chile on a plate and fill it with the warm filling. Drizzle a generous amount of the walnut sauce over the stuffed pepper, then sprinkle some pomegranate seeds and lastly some finely chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
- Traditionally the pepper is served alone, but if you’d like some plain white rice may be added as an accompaniment. I prefer the alone method and find that the rice is unnecessary, but it is up to you. Lastly, I quite enjoy a glass of dry or fruity red wine with this meal — beer is not recommended.
Nancy Lopez is a food blogger and author of the cookbook Mexican Tamales Made Meatless. Born in Mexico, raised in the US, and currently living in Southern Mexico, she has followed a meatless diet for almost 10 years. It is her passion and mission to share all she has learned about vegan Mexican cooking and vegetarian Mexican recipes. Mexican Made Meatless is a blog dedicated to preserving the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine just without the meat. It’s a place to celebrate Mexican culture and all it’s delightfully delicious traditional foods. Read more…