Monday, January 14, 2013

Colorful, festive, spicy

Nothing beats food that's really colorful, yet comes entirely from plant and animal sources that never went near colorful artificial dyes with unpronounceable names. This is one such dish, a little-known (to gringos) wonder from Mexico called chiles en nogada. Except it isn't really, since I omit the walnuts. Maybe I should just call them chiles rellenos arco iris

The recipe has three parts that all come together holistically in a tricolor splash of colors looking as though they just came from a Mexican flag party. 

The chilis

I use poblanos (aka ancho or pasilla), but I suppose you could use any other type large enough to stuff. Preparation is simple: just blast the skin with a torch or blister it over a gas flame. For best flavor, do this outdoors right over hot mesquite coals - although I'm happy sacrificing convenience for flavor and remaining in my kitchen. Place the scorched peppers in a plastic bag or between two bowls to steam a bit, then scrape off the burnt skin with a knife. I don't wash the peppers, since this removes flavor. I don't mind a few charred bits of chili skin since they tend to add rusticity.

The stuffing

This is where things get more fun: diced pork shoulder, trimmed to remove excess fat gets sautéed with chopped onions, garlic, cinnamon, salt, pepper, cumin, toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds. When it's hot, add some raisins or other dried fruit, maybe even some chopped bits of apple or pear. If it's still a bit dry, add some water or stock, and taste for seasoning.

The sauce

Nothing could be simpler. Just combine heavy cream (or milk, if you must), soft goat cheese and a bit of mozzarella to thicken. This remains cold, poured over the hot chilis at the last minute just before serving.


You have two options: chili lover's and milder. For chili lovers, slit the peppers down one side and spoon in the stuffing, leaving the seeds in place. Everyone else might thank you for carefully removing the seeds before stuffing in the filling. Place the stuffed chilis in a 350° oven with a bit of water in their pan for about 30 minutes, until everything is hot.

Place a hot chili on a warmed plate and immediately spoon on the white sauce, top with pomegranate seeds and rush to the table. Ideally, the first mouthfuls will be a mixture of hot pepper and stuffing coated with cool white sauce.

Chilis vary in heat, even when they're all the same variety. Some vary from pepper to pepper. You may find one underwhelmingly wimpy, while others are hot enough to make you drink hot sauce to cool your mouth. If potential heat issues loom, taste a small piece of the peppers when you slice them for stuffing.

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