The Secret to Making The Best Chiles en Nogada

Shockingly, when I asked our community “have you ever made chiles en nogada?” Eighty-one percent answered “no.”


After making them for the first time, I loved it so much that now I‘m trying to convince everyone to make them.


I’m not going to lie. The process was intense.


I spent one week researching the recipe, two hours peeling walnuts, and six hours prepping the ingredients and cooking, but in the end it was 100% percent worth it. 


I gained a whole new appreciation for Mexican food and a new understanding for the work it takes to prepare these recipes passed down from generation to generation.

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What is Chiles en Nogada?

Chiles en nogada is a patriotic dish that is typically served in the month of September to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.


I confess, that even though I am Mexican-American, I had never had a chile en nogada in my life before this year.


My mom always prepared chiles rellenos (stuffed, roasted, poblano peppers), but she never made chiles en nogada because according to her it takes a ton of preparation.


After going through it myself, I understand her hesitation to make them. The recipe is not only laborious but it’s loaded in controversy.

Why is Chiles en Nogada Controversial?

People can’t agree on how the dish should be made. 


Part of the problem is that some of the key ingredients are difficult to find if you are not located in central Mexico, but the other part is that there are so many different interpretations depending on who is making it, family traditions, and where in Mexico it is being prepared.


I must admit that while I was excited to make this dish for the first time, I was terrified of what some might think of my own interpretation. 


Who did I––a Mexican-American girl originally from Dallas, Texas, now living in Brooklyn––think I was to make chiles en nogada?


After preparing it myself, I have changed my mind and realized that Mexican or not, if you have ever said ”I love Mexican food” then you have every right to make chiles en nogada.


But before I explain why, let’s dive into the history.

History of Chiles en Nogada

It’s not just the ingredients that are controversial. Many people can’t even agree on how the dish was created in the first place.


Some say that nuns from the convent of Santa Monica, in Puebla, invented the dish to celebrate the Independence of Mexico after the Treaties of Cordoba were signed on August 24, 1821. But other historians argue that chiles en nogada were not invented to honor history.


“The chiles en nogada already existed, but they did not have these nationalist ideas that were put in them in the 20th century,” José Luis Juárez López, a research professor at the National Institute of Anthropology and History told The Mazatlan Post.


He argues that the patriotic symbolism was actually invented in the 1930s.


I personally find the story of the nuns to be a better version, but I can also see how it was created to fulfill romantic ideals.


Now that we know the history behind the dish, let’s talk about the ingredients.

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Chiles en Nogada Ingredients

No matter where or how you’re making chiles en nogada, there’s no arguing against the fact that this traditional Mexican dish must include four main ingredients––stuffed green poblano peppers, a creamy walnut sauce (nogada), pomegranate seeds, and sprigs of parsley.


Why is it so important to include these four things? The colors represent those of the Mexican flag.


The other ingredients that (many argue) should be included are peaches, apples, and pears mixed into the picadillo (a mixture of meat, veggies, and fruit) which is then stuffed into a roasted poblano pepper.


The sweet taste is what makes chiles en nogada unique from other Mexican stuffed poblano dishes.


My husband best described it by saying “It tastes like Christmas!”


The dish did in fact taste like a holiday dessert. My small Brooklyn apartment was filled with an aroma of cinnamon, cloves, and fruit that made me so excited for the fall.

Ingredients that People Can't Agree On

So then what’s the problem? It doesn’t seem that complicated. Right?


There are 5 main parts of the dish that people can’t seem to agree on.

  1. Should the meat be ground or chopped? Some argue that the filling or picadillo should be made from a combination of chopped beef and pork, while others say it should be made from ground beef and pork. Whatever you decide to make, I’ve read that both options taste great and it’s simply a matter of preference. I used ground beef (no pork) because I was craving it and because I thought it would be super tasty!


  2. Should the chiles be fried? Many people prepare the chiles without frying them; however, others feel that it’s not a proper chile en nogada unless it is “capeado” or covered in a frothy egg batter and fried in lard or oil. Once again, whichever you decide to do, I’ve read that both are very tasty and it’s simply a matter of preference.


  3. Is it okay to use cream in the nogada? While traditionally the walnut sauce is made up of goat cheese and walnuts, many have tweaked the recipe to include sour cream, Mexican crema, and/or crème fraîche (depending on what they can find). However, some feel that adding additional cream––especially sour cream––is a sin! Once again, it’s up to your personal preference. Some people have dairy allergies and/or specific dairy needs. So whichever you decide to do, I don’t think you can go wrong.

  4. Should the sauce be made from walnuts or can other nuts be used? Over the years, people have tweaked the recipe and made the sauce from pecans and/or a combination of almonds; however, many agree that this is not the proper way to make chiles en nogada because nogada comes form the word "nogal" which means "walnut." I feel that in order for it to quality as chiles en nogada it does need to be a walnut sauce; unless, you have a walnut allergy. *Note: Keep in mind that if you do decide to substitute the nuts for almonds or pecans, you sauce will not appear white. Instead, it will have a light brown consistency. In order to achieve a creamy white sauce, you must use peeled walnuts. 

  5. Is it okay to use another type of candied fruit if you can't find biznaga? This one is elss controversial due to the fact that candied biznaga or candied cactus is now endangered. Many chefs and home cooks are now subsituting this ingredient for another type of candied fruit. I used candied pineapple and it was delicious!

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What is the Proper Way to Make Chiles en Nogada?

After a full week of researching the recipe and receiving several emails about how to make it––I realized that what makes chiles en nogada special has nothing to do with the ingredients.


Making an elaborate meal like chiles en nogada––which celebrates the diversity of palate, people, traditions, location, and culture––is magical because it’s one of the best ways to express love.


Like anything worth loving, it takes time, dedication, and work.


Though I admit I got exhausted after about an hour and a half of peeling walnuts, I also enjoyed every second, because during those moments I was flooded with memories of my grandmother cooking in her own kitchen.


Though she is now gone, and I miss her dearly, it is amazing how recreating a Mexican meal at home will always allow me to connect with her spiritually.


Which is what led me to finally realize the secret to making delicious chiles en nogada. Thanks to previous generations of women like my Tita Susana, I had the most important ingredient all along––lots of love.


If you also make chiles en nogada using this ingredient (no matter where you’re from), I promise you can’t go wrong––and that you will treasure the memories for a lifetime.


Do you plan on making chiles en nogada? If yes, tag us in your pictures using #MIMPChilesNogada and we’ll repost you on our Instagram Stories!




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About the Author

LUISA NAVARRO

Mexican-American journalist, former national news producer, and graduate of Boston College and Columbia University School of Journalism. Her mission is to shed more light on the beauty and traditions of Mexican culture. This website is dedicated to her grandmothers, Tita Susana and Tita Lupita, who taught her to be proud of her heritage and to always remember where her ancestors came from.

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