These vegan chiles en nogada will transport you to the city of Puebla in the fall. This dish is one of the stars of Mexican cuisine, because it perfectly embodies why Mexican cuisine was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. It is painstakingly laborious, but don’t worry I have adapted it so you can make it at home in less than an hour. A roasted poblano chile is stuffed with a picadillo of pork (lentils in this version), sautéed in onion, garlic, and tomato puree with almonds, apples, olives, plantain, pear, capers, and raisins. It is bathed in a walnut cream sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
The earliest versions of this dish can be found in cookbooks as early as 1817, and there are several theories or legends as to where it originated. Some say that the Agustinian Recollects of the Convent of St. Monica created the dish in honor of the emperor Agustin Iturbide who was in town and had played an important role in the recently won war for Mexican independence. The dish was meant to symbolize the three colors of the Mexican flag green, white, and red.
Another version says that three soldiers of Agustin’s regiment were returning home to Puebla after the war was won, and their girlfriends wanted to prepare a special dish for them. They each found an ingredient that represented the colors of the Mexican flag and said a prayer to our Lady of the Rosary and St. Paschal Baylon, thus chiles en nogada were born.
Regardless of their true origin, chiles en nogada today is a very popular dish only available in the fall, since it uses completely seasonal ingredients found in Puebla. Chiles in nogada season is highly anticipated in Mexico as it is a reflection of our national pride and the celebration of Mexico’s independence which is celebrated on September 16. Mexican cuisine is deeply integrated into the history, culture, and the community identity of the Mexican people, and this dish is only one example of the beauty and richness of it all.
The Recipe: Vegan Chiles en Nogada
You can add peach to the picadillo, but I prefer to leave it out. Traditionally the walnuts are peeled, but this takes insanely long, so instead I have just soaked them the night before. Instead of lentils you could use beefless crumbles, TVP or jackfruit. ¡Enjoy!
1cupWalnuts,soaked in water the night before, drained
1cupBaguette or bolillo,cut crust off, cut bread into cubes
1tsp.Sugar or sweetener of choice
Salt to taste
1Pomegranate, cut, peeled, and seeds removed
Fill a medium pot with water and add lentils, ½ of an onion, and 2 smashed garlic cloves. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
While the lentils are cooking, place the two tomatoes and the poblano peppers on a sheet tray. Turn your oven broiler to high and place sheet tray on the top rack of the oven. Let them cook for a couple of minutes on each side until the tomato and the chiles begin to soften and have black spots all over. Remove from heat. Place the tomates and chiles in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 5 minutes.
Drain the lentils, reserve 1 cup of the lentil cooking liquid, and using a potato masher, mash them to break them up.
Peel the poblano peppers, make 1 cut lengthwise with a knife, and remove the seeds. Set aside.
Remove half of the skin off of the tomatoes, and using a blender process them into a puree. Set aside.
Set a large pot to medium heat, add ¼ cup of water, and add onion. Cook for 4-5 minutes until onion begins to soften and look translucent.
Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add cooked lentils, mix well, and pour in tomato puree. Let cook for 3-4 minutes or until the puree begins to bubble and change to a darker red color.
Add clove, cinnamon, black pepper, plantain, apple, pear, almonds, olives, capers, and raisins. Stir mixture.
Add 1 cup of the liquid you reserved from the lentils, and simmer for 20 min or until the plantain is cooke through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
While the picadillo is cooking, soak the cut bread in the cup of almond milk for 5 minutes.
In a blender, place the soaked bread and milk, previously soaked and drained walnuts, sugar, and white wine, blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt. It should have the consistency of a cream sauce. If it is too thick, add more almond milk. Set aside.
Stuff the chiles rellenos with the lentil picadillo. Place the chiles seam side down on a plate. Pour walnut sauce over them, and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.
To save time you can buy pre-cooked lentils, and substitute the tomatoes with 1 cup of pureed roasted diced tomatoes (canned). Do not heat up the walnut sauce. Instead of lentils you could use TVP, beefless crumbles or jackfruit.