So, I'm really white. The food of my people is Anglo-American-Eastern European food: casseroles, Cornish meat pasties, potato-and-cheese pierogi. The food of my childhood is solid American midwestern fare: Salisbury steak, ground beef spaghetti sauce, shepherd's pie. But the food I love is more exotic, with different flavors from around the world, and I end up getting excited about other people's food, and it leads to things like this molé-making class at Astor, and the resultant need to make Mexican food at home, although I am clearly about as non-Mexican as they come.
So I set out to make Mexican for a dinner party. And then I decided to make chiles en nogada, which is right up there with molés as super-authentic and complicated Mexican food (plus, and yes I noticed this, it wasn't even part of the class that I took that was my excuse for why I needed to make Mexican in the first place.)
But they are SO pretty. Finished picture first, so you can see where it's all headed:
Red, white, and green, which are not only the colors of the Mexican flag, but also pretty Christmas-y, so I thought it was a good season to make them. Plus, you really need pomegranate seeds, and the dead of winter is a good time to find pomegranates.
Pomegranates, like beets, are full of red stuff that wants to stain the bejeezus out of you. But there's an easy trick: fill a bowl with water, cut the pomegranate in half, and then hold the fruit underwater while you pull the seeds out of it. The seeds sink to the bottom, the white inedible pithy stuff floats to the top, and you don't get any red stuff on your clothes, your hands, or your wall. You just get these beautiful little jewels, fuss-free:
So. Chiles en nogada. The chiles in this case are poblanos, the big dark green ones, which you roast, peel, split, seed, and stuff. Nogada is a creamy walnut sauce.
Of course I started my search for a good chiles en nogada recipe in the traditional way: I asked Twitter.
I sifted through the suggestions, which included battered and fried versions (too fatty), sauces with goat cheese instead of cream cheese (seemed pretty far from the original), and at least 18 instances of "well, REAL chiles en nogada are ONLY made with XYZ." In the end I went with a combination of authentic and expedient, and loosely based my version on this recipe: Marilyn Tausend's recipe.
The night before, I took care of the chile prep, and it's a good thing, because you would not believe how well my range hood does NOT deal with the smell of broiled-to-the-point-of-burning green-skinned hot peppers. Took more than an hour for the smell to clear, and opening the windows when the weather is right around freezing is no fun for anyone.
Anyway! Char 'em:
Or if you don't want to play chicken with your smoke alarm, do this in a pan, so you can cook them enough to loosen the skin without going all the way to charcoal territory.
Either way, then you toss them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam 'em:
After 15 minutes or so, retrieve the peppers, and peel off as much of the blackened skin as you can:
Til they're all naked:
And then you slit them down the side:
At this point most of the recipes say to reach into the pepper and remove the seeds and ribs. First off, this is a great way to find out whether you have any tiny cuts on your hands, because OUCH. Hot pepper juice burns. Second of all, I kept finding if I pulled on the ribs it started to tear the pepper, so I just stripped the seeds off the top cone of the pepper, rinsed them off, and called it a day.
Now, usually when I roast peppers I wouldn't rinse them, because that takes off the flavorful smoky oils, but in this case I was worried about the peppers being too hot, so the rinsing was okay with me. Plus smoky flavor is not the point of chiles en nogada, as you'll see when I pick up here in my next post.
(This post was getting waaaaay long, with pictures that would take forever to load, so now instead of a post, it's a series! More tomorrow.)