The Legend of a Mexican Dish That Tells a Country’s Origin Story

Usually appearing on menus in late August, just before Mexican Independence Day on September 16, the iconic chile en nogada is a dish to celebrate.

Meaning “chili in walnut sauce”, the plate symbolizes the convergence of religions and traditions in what is now known as Mexico five centuries ago.

The recipe for chili en nogada calls for ingredients, flavors, textures, and cooking techniques from around the world. Ground meat (usually beef and pork) is mixed with dried fruits and nuts and marinated in a mildly spicy poblano pepper. The dish is finished with a light walnut sauce, then sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and often garnished with parsley. The choice of a poblano pepper—a staple of the birthplace of this delicacy—as the centerpiece of the plate feels like a deliberate act of poetry.

Pretty as delicious as dressed in the green, white, and red hues of the Mexican flag – chile en nogada appeals to sight, smell, taste, touch, and identity. Part Spanish and part indigenous, the plate is a metaphor for the complexity of the Mexican people. Its symbolic colors and the myths woven around its birth have made Chile en nogada a symbol of patriotic pride.

Two famous legends speak for the creation of the chile en nogada, and both point to Puebla as the fertile Central Mexican plain where it flourished. Surrounded by volcanoes, the colonial city was rich and diverse. Its privileged location at the midpoint between Mexico City and the port of Veracruz (the gateway between Spain and the New World) gives its cooks access to new ingredients and cultures, and thus, culinary sophistication.

A mix of history and mythThe most popular story refers to the birth of Chili en Nogada in the convent of Santa Monica, where Augustinian nuns built it in the 1820s. Renowned for their cooking, the nuns were commissioned to prepare food for the Mexican emperor Augustin de Iturbide, the commander of the Trigarante Army (a unified troops consisting of Spanish and Mexican forces) on his way to Mexico City after Iturbide signed. I had planned to stay in Puebla. The Treaty of Córdoba in Veracruz, which declared Mexico’s independence from Spain. His arrival will be accompanied by the feast of his patron saint, Augustine.

according to legend, to represent the colors of the Trigarante army, The nuns discovered the available green, white and red ingredients. Iterbide would later design the Mexican flag of the same color.

in his book, tapestry room, Artemio de Valle-Arizpe, 20th century writers, added to the dish’s heritage with a story Joe credits three women – girlfriends of three Trigarante soldiers – with its creation. The sisters living in Puebla were excited about the return of their allies and the victory of Iturbide’s mission. The trio asked San Juan Belón, the patron saint of the cooks, to mediate. The women incorporated seasonal ingredients that represented the colors of the trident uniform in their creation.

Green peppers toasted and red open on a cutting board.

A ground beef mixture being spooned into a green chili.

Both stories describe a delightful plate that represents the identity of a nation and has captured the minds and hearts of Mexicans from all walks of life for centuries.

“It’s a dish of tradition,” says Alfonso Sotello 5 radishes in Pilsen. Sotello takes great pride in serving a dish that “celebrates Mexico and that represents the flag we carry in our hearts.”

Seeing the symbolic colors of our country on a plate, especially while away from it, goes beyond emotion, for many of us, the preparation and enjoyment of chile en nogada is also an act of union – of bridging that gap. An opportunity that separates us from home, and a means of participating in a collective ritual that is taking place across time and space.

Pomegranate being sprinkled on green chillies laden with cream sauce.

Like many Mexican dishes, making chili en nogada requires time and hands, and is usually a group activity. Its preparation is a delicate balance between adaptation and preservation. Given that every cook in every family seems to have a secret recipe, and that the basic ingredients of the dish, such as candied biznaga – a type of endangered cactus – are no longer available, with one exception to the flexibility within recipes Usually the place is: El Capedo. For the people of Puebla in particular, el capedo – dipping pepper in an egg batter and then roasting it – is fundamental.

The dish, which usually appears on every menu on August 28 to coincide with the feast of St. Augustine, recently turned 200 years old. As its popularity continues to grow in Mexico, the long anticipation of enjoying this iconic dish has waned a bit lately. Given the availability of ingredients, this festive delicacy can now be had as early as July.

In Chicago, Plate is also gaining visibility. According to restaurateurs, demand for chiles en nogada comes from both established fans and new converts, who have learned about it through travel, word of mouth or social media. And while seasonal accessibility may not always be an issue (some eateries serve them year-round), they’re not always easy to find in Chicago.

Here’s a list of some of the best, along with details on their availability.

Chili en nogada finished on a plate.

Finished products at Beyond the Sun.

5848 N Broadway, Edgewater

Like the nun of the Santa Monica convent, Mas alla del Sol’s chef and owner Adan Moreno graciously shared that when members of the local religious leadership tried his food, he was offered food for a group of visitors, including the Archbishop of Mexico City. Was commissioned to build it.

Moreno decided to include chile en nogada in his menu following a request from his customers. Plate is demanding, as it requires several steps: from sourcing the ingredients at their peak; for the preparation of sauces; For roasting, peeling and cleaning peppers; for stuffing, and final assembly.

The delicacy became so popular that Moreno now serves it around Mexican Independence Day and brings it back when the green, white and red must be broken out (Cinco de Mayo, for example).

This year, the edgewater eatery will have the dish starting September 15 and again in early May. He recommends calling ahead to confirm availability. Moreno’s recipe does not include capedo, but he can add it upon request.

3023 N. Broadway, Lakeview

Chef Natalie Oswald says her “regular customers are already counting down the days, and first-timers say it tastes like Christmas.” For Oswald, two elements stand out in the successful execution of chile en nogada: a poblano pepper that’s well-cooked but still firm, and a hot sauce that doesn’t burn or curdle.

Chillé en nogada will be on the menu at Chilam Balam from September 3 to mid-October.

1758 W 18th Street, Pilsena

Chef Alfonso Sotello talks with enthusiasm about chile en nogada, which he serves at his Pilsen restaurant for fiestas patrias or Mexican national holidays.

Sotello’s recipe includes pork and beef, which he mixes with a selection of fruits, including plantains, pears and peaches. The poblano pepper is simultaneously a flavor, a texture and a vehicle. “It must be perfect,” he says.

The plate is available at 5 Rabanitos starting Labor Day weekend and will be on the menu for the entire month of September.

2834 W Cermak Road, Little Village

chile en nogada Fans rejoice, as this dish remains on the menu year-round at La Casa de Samuel in Little Village. But this is no easy task: the detailed preparation and requirement of certain ingredients require commitment and discipline. “We’re always on the lookout for pomegranates,” says chef Arturo Linares. Already an established destination for traditional Mexican plates, the chiles en nogada here holds its own because of its symbolic nature, sentimental charge, and flavor. According to Linares, “We are fully invested in the plate preparation process, and we are proud and excited every time we serve it.”

Try it with their handmade tortilla.

1116 Madison Street, Oak Park

According to New Rebozo’s suburban team, patrons are called upon to ask if Chiles en Nogada is available as the season approaches. Famous for his mole, another jewel in the crown of Mexican baroque cuisine, chef Francisco López, also known as “Chef Paco”, has featured the dish since opening his suburban restaurant 30 years ago: “Back when many People didn’t know about it,” he says. In his cuisine, Chef Paco finds his guiding philosophy: “Delicious, sweet, spicy, soft, crunchy, a chile en nogada is like life. A good one has balance.”

The dish is available now through January.

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