Chiles En Nogada at Mercadito for Mexican Independence Day

September 14, 2013 (CHICAGO)

It's also the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. Food reporter Steve Dolinsky says if you're going to talk about any dish this weekend, it has to be Chiles En Nogada. He visited one restaurant in River North where they're making it all weekend long, and it's not easy.

There may not be fireworks, but you can bet you'll see the colors of the Mexican flag in at least one dish at Mercadito in River North this weekend: namely, the chiles en nogada. Part of the reason is due to the fact it's now pomegranate season in Mexico, but also because Independence Day is a lot more significant than the better-known Cinco de Mayo.

"It was a battle against the French in Puebla, so Cinco de Mayo is celebrated a lot more in Puebla; as for Quince Septiembre is celebrated across the country," said chef and owner Patrico Sandoval.

Sandoval prepares the national dish - Chiles En Nogada - the old school way.

"It's got different fruits - pears, apples - almonds, pecans, and then it's served with a walnut sauce and pomegranates," he said.

He begins by charring a poblano on the stove, then peeling off the skin. Ground pork is added to onions and garlic until it's cooked through, then a range of ingredients - including spices like cumin and allspice - plus tomatoes, pears and apples.. to cooked plantains, raisins, almonds and pecans; everything goes into the skillet. He stuffs the roasted poblano to the brim, then makes a creamy, white sauce consisting of cream, milk and peeled walnuts, plus a shot of tequila.

To plate, he simply drapes the stuffed poblano in walnut sauce, then tops it and surrounds it with fresh pomegranates and slivered almonds.

"You've got the heat from the poblano chile, then you've got the meat; you've got the sweetness from the pear and apples inside; you've got your spices - allspice, cumin - and then you've got the creaminess of the walnut and of course the texture of the nuts inside and the pomegranates," said Sandoval.

Now the chiles en nogada is definitely a once-a-year type of dish, and the good thing is here at Mercadito they're gonna be making it and selling it all day today and tomorrow, to really celebrate Mexican Independence in style.

108 W. Kinzie St.

(Stuffed chile peppers in walnut sauce)
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients (chiles):
4 medium-sized poblano chiles
2 tsp. blended oil
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/4 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. fresh oregano
1/4 tsp. fresh thyme
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 roma tomato, cored and chopped
1 medium green apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and chopped
1 pear peeled, cored and chopped
1.5 ea. yellow plantain
1/4 cup raisins, chopped
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
Salt and black pepper to taste

Ingredients (walnut sauce):
1/2 cup chopped raw walnuts
1/2 cup crema fresca
1 oz. tequila
1/4 cup milk, plus more if desired
Cinnamon and salt, to taste

For serving:
Seeds from 1 ripe pomegranate
Chopped parsley

1. Roast the poblano chiles until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place chile in a plastic food-storage bag, close it tight, and let the chile steam for 15 minutes.

2. While the chiles are steaming, in a skillet heat up oil, add onions and garlic until translucent about 2-3 minutes, then add the ground pork. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes, and then add cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and allspice. Add the chopped tomato, apple, pear, yellow plantain, raisins, pecans, and almonds; add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. Take the chiles out of the bag, and rub off the skin. Cut a slit lengthwise into each chile, and scoop out the seeds and pith. Stuff each chile with 1/4 of the filling from step two.

4. To make the sauce, place the walnuts in an oven set at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Remove the walnuts, allow them to cool, and then rub them to peel off the skin. Place the walnuts in a blender along with the crema fresca, tequila, and milk, and blend until a smooth, slightly thick sauce forms. Add the cinnamon and salt to taste. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add more milk.

5. To serve, place a stuffed chile on each plate, and pour over it some of the walnut sauce. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and parsley for garnish. Serve at room temperature.

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