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Well-Balanced Red and Green for the Holidays: Chiles en Nogada


One of the most common traits exhibited by Libras is, supposedly, “indecisiveness.”  As a Libra myself, I don’t really mind that description.  Well, maybe a little.  But not really–it’s all in good humor, right?  Then again, who likes to be called “indecisive”?  Am I offended?! Yes. No. Definitely. . . . maybe.

Represented by the scales, Libras often vacillate between extremes.  In my case, I tend to swing between wildly opposing behaviors:  holiday sugar-binges eating chocolate fudge, chocolate cookies, chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, or just plain chocolate**, later balanced by the most ascetic of diets, the ACD, followed religiously for months, until homeostasis is achieved once again.

Similarly, I may one day vow to keep my desk immaculately clean, then allow the notes and bills and post-its to accumulate in irregular stacks like fallen autumn foliage on a forest floor; finally, in a fit of tidiness, I’ll organize the entire thing in one afternoon, filing each and every snippet of paper or invoice in its proper place, only so the cycle can begin again.  Or I’ll work like a lunatic at some writing project (hmm, say, like a cookbook), tapping at the keyboard for 12-16 hours a day over the space of three months, then burn out, veg out and do absolutely no work for days while I sit comatose on the couch in my jammies and watch my soap opera.

Not surprisingly, this all-or-nothing mentality extends to my cooking as well. In order to perfect my soy-free vegan whipped cream recipe, for instance, I ended up making 50 batches in the space of a month, stopping only once I was satisfied with the result (and then didn’t touch the stuff again for six months).

Last week, my fixation turned to the Chiles en Nogada (stuffed peppers with walnut sauce) that I read about years ago in Laura Esquivel’s  Like Water for Chocolate.  Now, I’m no expert on Mexican cuisine (I suppose having drinks at Hernando’s Hideway in 1994 doesn’t count), I’ve never eaten poblano chiles, and I’ve certainly never tasted Chiles en Nogada.

But when I browsed through the half-price produce at our local supermarket (where I buy slightly downtrodden apples for The Girls), I spied a bag of 8 cubanelle chiles.  They appeared to be entirely fresh, and firm as new spring leaves; nary a blemish except for a tiny patch of brown no larger than an aglet (an aglet?? True, it has nothing to do with chiles, but it is the correct size.  And besides, how often does one get to use the word “aglet”?).

I suppose I could use these in a simple roasted pepper pasta,” I mused.  “But wait–remember how great they looked at Esperanza and Alex’s wedding?  And how 27 trays of them disappeared in no time at all? And how they were so delicious, so imbued with the aura of true love and exquisite care, that they filled anyone who ingested them with a slow, spreading sensation of ecstasy that overtook every inch of their being?”

All right, then! Chiles en Nogada it is!

Once I began to read other recipes for this dish, I discovered that (a) the chiles were actually poblanos, not cubanelles (but luckily, they can be used interchangeably); (b) they were stuffed with a picadillo, a mixture made of either pork or beef or both (neither of which I eat); (c) the filling featured fruits and dried candied peels (which, of course, I cannot eat); (d)  the walnut sauce  contains queso fresco, a soft, piquant cheese similar to goat cheese (which I don’t. . . etc.); and (e) a simple roasted pepper pasta was starting to sound really, really appealing.

Okay, this might take a little more work than intially anticipated.  But I was a Libra with a mission!

Since I couldn’t undertake multiple trials as I did with the whipped cream (I had only one bag of 8 chiles, after all), I carefully considered my options and decided to go with tempeh in lieu of meat, orange zest in lieu of candied peel, and tofu sour cream in lieu of queso fresco.  And you know what? The result was outrageously good.

In addition to a spectacular visual image, this dish offers a slightly smoky, soft and fleshy pepper encasing a thick and knobby filling, its sweet and savory notes in perfect harmony; there’s just the slightest hint of citrus underlying the spice.  Slathered over top is a rich, extravagantly silky sauce, one that confers a zesty bite along with a whisper of cinnamon.  Finally, a handful of intense, sparkling pomegranate seeds finishes the dish with an additional burst of both color and flavor.

I was entirely smitten and enjoyed stuffed peppers three times over the next three days.  The HH , on the other hand, wasn’t quite as taken. “It’s interesting, but just too weird for me,” he commented. “Though I’m sure it would be delicious with meat.”

With its satin stole and garnet beads, Chiles en Nogada is perfectly dressed for a holiday celebration (in fact, it was originally created to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, with the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag. . . though I have to admit my sauce was more mauve-tinged than white). It does take a bit of work, but is definitely worth it.

And now that I’ve exhausted my energies on this dish, I’ll shift to the opposite extreme and flake out on the couch for a few days. . . until the next culinary tornado hits.

Mum, we think those peppers would be better with meat, too. But we’ll still take some of that satin walnut stole and garnet pomegranate beads, holidays or not.”

** though not this year, obviously.


© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

Last Year at this Time: Gastronomic Gifts II: Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread


26 comments to Well-Balanced Red and Green for the Holidays: Chiles en Nogada

  • I’m in southeast Texas and have eaten Chiles en Nogada as an omni and I think you’re on to something here. I’m going to have to make this!

    For what it’s worth, the cubanelle peppers we get here are too hot to stuff for an entree. They can be hotter than jalepeños! I’ve always seen this dish made with poblanos, just like yours. (If you want to see what a cubanelle looks like, it’s the yellow pepper at the bottom of my enchilada sauce post.)


  • Your dish looks beautiful and sounds wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing.

    I tend to hyper focus on things as well so I loved reading that I wasn’t alone on that (and no I am not a Libra).

    How did my husband end up at your house? Are all men the same? I will come up with an interesting combination and get the same “too weird” comment sometimes. Men just don’t seem to get it do they?



  • Wow. Quite an elaborate presentation, highlighting those other quintessential Libra qualities – artistic talent Andreaand creativity. 🙂
    The reason Libras are so indecisive is because they are so fair-minded, and see all sides of an issue.


  • Accidentally got my name in the wrong place. I suck at using a laptop.


  • I’m into spicy stuff these days, so this dish really sounds awesome to me right now! Thanks for experimenting with this recipe and for sharing the results!


  • Looks like Christmas on a dish 🙂


  • Jes

    I’m such a sucker for stuffed poblanos and those look pretty darn authentic and delicious to me! I’m going to have to whip them up soon–I bet I can get fresh ones down in Mobile over the holidays (ooh yum!).


  • Jes

    Oh, and I totally OEDed aglet–I’m amazed that you know the word, let alone used it in a perfectly normal sentence about peppers!!


  • Oh my goodness that is such a beautiful dish! The filling looks especially amazing…and that sauce – WOW!


  • I had one of those fits of filing and organizing papers last night! I envy those who can keep on top of it consistently.

    Thanks for your determination with your recipes, it is inspiring. Of course we all get to reap the benefits of your hard work. This recipe is no exception, and I definitely think it wouldn’t be “too weird” for me!


  • A-K

    Oh man, that looks AMAZING, Ricki! I especially love the pomegranate arils 🙂 Will be bookmarking this for making (hopefully soon!)


  • Those look fabulous Ricki! Those would be a lovely addition to a holiday dinner table.

    I’m a little indecisive at times too. Maybe I should have been born a Libra!


  • Claire,
    Thanks for your comment, and for reading! That’s interesting about the cubanelles, as the ones I had were barely hot at all. I’d love to hear what you think if you do make the dish, since you’ve tasted it in the original form!

    Yep, I do think that those cliches about men were created for a reason! (And yes, guys out there, I know that many women share stereotypical traits as well, but it’s so much more fun to point out the men’s!) 😉

    Well, thanks for the lovely Libra compliments. 🙂 Didn’t mean to imply that ALL the Libra traits were negative! (I do want to be fair about it, of course–ha ha). 😉

    If you like spicy, you’ll like this–though it’s not excessivly hot (and the filling isn’t spicy at all) 🙂

    Veggie Girl,
    That’s the idea! 🙂

    Thanks! It did taste yummy.

    Glad it looks authentic–I have no idea what it’s supposed to taste like, but I did enjoy it! And about “aglet”–well, I’m an English teacher, aka word nerd!! 😉

    Voracious Vegan,
    Yes, I think the sauce would do well in many other contexts, too. I’m going to try it and report back. 🙂

    Ordinary Vegetarian,
    Yep, I envy those types, too. *sigh*. And glad I’m not the only one who didn’t find this weird in the least!

    Yes, the arils added a beautiful color, texture and taste (though they could easily be left out if someone isn’t a fan). 🙂

    Thanks! And I hereby pronounce you an “Honorary Libra”! Join the club (but only if you want to. Or maybe you’re not sure; that’s okay. You can decide later. Or now.)


  • never seen anything like those! love the pom seeds


  • I really love the stuffing flavours. I can almost taste it now.


  • way to persevere with the recipe 😉 i’ve never had this dish either, but this sounds delish!


  • That looks absolutely fantastic! I wish I had time to make it for dinner tonight.


  • Oh, Ricki, you continue to out do yourself! This looks so delicious!


  • your stuffed peppers with walnut sauce look gloriously good, Ricki! i’m a big fan of peppers, tempeh, celery root, and all things mexi-eatz themed. mmmmmmm! i imagine the combination has gotta be awesome!

    i had a friend years ago who was a libra – he cracked me up! similar in that he was always trying to balance the extremes and he was soooo indecisive. but it’s charming & fun and hey, all the signs have their quirks, right? (i’m a taurus and am ridiculously stubborn – it drives dan bananas!) just think of your wildly opposing behaviors as the ying and the yang. it’s allll gooooood!

    p.s. – julie loves apples as well. she’s not one for granny smiths, but she looooves honey crisps and pink ladies.


  • From the colors to the flavors, I just love the sound of this dish! I don’t use pomegranate in many savory application, but perhaps it’s time to branch out a bit…


  • Mom

    Only the sweet bell peppers get along with me but I love your writing and the picture. What a unique way to express the holiday spirit!


  • wow those look amazing – would love these – and I would be happy with how they tasted as I have no knowledge of the original to compare them to – but I suspect I would like your version better if I was to taste the original.

    I am no libra but I can be indecisive and was amused when a friend used to say: I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure


  • You never cease to amaze and impress me with your creations!! The dish looks gorgeous. And reminds me that I have 3 pomegranates in the fridge that I better eat soon!


  • Danika

    These were a lot better than I thought. I was second guessing the orange, but it added a ton of necessary flavor! The sauce is a wonderful compliment to the flavor of the pepper and filling. I’ve never had the original myself, but I’ll take this any day!


    Ricki Reply:

    I’m so glad you liked them! And so glad you took on the task of making them–a bit of work, but nice for a special occasion. I’ve never had the original, either, but I did enjoy these. 🙂


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