Mexico is one of the largest and most populous countries in the world, located south from the United States. It has a long history, especially known for housing the Aztec and Maya culture, but also many others. Of the 120 million inhabitants 10-15% identify as indigenous. Both the name Mexico and the names of numerous foodstuffs originating from there, from chocolate to jicama, originate from the Nahuatl language, still spoken by over a million people. In the early 1500s Mexico became a colony of Spain with deleterious results, as violence and illnesses brought by the Spanish (mostly smallpox) decimated the Native Americans and destroyed large parts of the local culture. Mexico is a megadiverse country with over 200,000 different species and the largest number of species of reptiles (707) of any nation. It is a popular tourist destination, some coming for the Meso-American ruins, others attracted by the beaches on the long coastlines.
Mexican restaurants are popular in many parts of the world, but many of them serve westernized “texmex” food instead of real Mexican food, e.g. guacamole with very little avocado. Mexican food isn’t just hot, greasy and beany, it can be nuanced and aromatic. Tortillas are used a lot, of course, and prepared and eaten in a dozen ways relatively unknown outside of Mexico, but also many dishes without them. Corn is also eaten in many other forms, even several drinks. Many types of chili peppers are used, unripe, ripe, fresh, dried, smoked etc, and often a food calls for a specific type of chili. Almost all dishes include a sauce, or are eaten with a salsa, usually made with tomatoes or the related tomatillo, which results in a green salsa. Mole sauces may contain dozens of ingredients, including various spices, cocoa, almonds, other nuts and honey.
Many kinds of meat, seafood and dairy products are eaten. A wide variety of fruits is enjoyed by themselves, as juice drinks, desserts and in some regions also in salsas. Huitlacoche is a peculiar delicacy of fungus-infested corn, turned black. (I have seen canned huitlacoche sold here, but it was so expensive I didn’t buy it.) Besides chili, many herbs and spices are used in Mexican cooking, but cumin and cinnamon are particularly important. Achiote (annatto) gives food a red color and some flavour too, epazote is pungent and culantro is similar to cilantro. Mexican oregano has a much stronger taste than normal oregano.
Chiles en nogada (chili and walnuts) is a regional dish from Puebla representing the Mexican flag with red, white and green (my sauce is pink since I didn’t peel the walnuts, for some reason pureeing walnut gives a pink result). When I first heard of it a few years ago, I knew I had to make it for Vegventures, as it is so different from what most people view as Mexican food. There is chili, yes, but no beans, corn or rice. Apples, walnuts and pomegranates may not be viewed as particularly “Mexican”. This dish is generally eaten this time of the year, before Mexico’s independence day (16th September), in some areas more in tune with the pomegranate season, from October to January.
I based my recipe mostly on this vegan chiles en nogada, but also looked at several other ones, including omni recipes and Ricki Heller’s vegan recipe. My main recipe had different seasonings from every other recipe, so I trusted the others. It is very tasty, though my husband found it too sweet. The walnut flavour in the sauce is quite mild, so even if you don’t like walnuts you should like this.
I could only think of one store in Amsterdam that could have poblano peppers and they did. They’re large and not very spicy, though apparently some peppers can be spicier than others. If you can’t find poblanos, you can probably use normal green peppers (the large type that tastes like bell pepper) and perhaps brush them with a little chili oil inside before stuffing. This dish should be easy to make even paleo by using something else instead of TVP, like chopped nuts. Several places list two peppers as the serving size, but I think one per person makes a fine meal with something on the side, like a salad and perhaps bread. It’s quite filling.
Note that you should soak the walnuts overnight! You’re also supposed to rub the skins off, but people have commented that it can take hours, and besides dying the sauce it has very little effect on the flavour.
Chiles en nogada
4 large poblano peppers
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
oil for frying
1 large apple (or a combination of apple, pear and peach)
3/4 cup/1.8 dl reconstituted TVP (I used fava bean TVP)
1/4 cup/0.6 dl sliced almonds
2 tbsp raisins
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a pinch cloves
1 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp (golden) raisins
salt and pepper
3/4 cup/1.8 dl nondairy sour cream (you can also use pureed tofu or pureed cashews + cider vinegar, like I did)
1/2 cup/1.2 dl raw walnuts soaked overnight
(1 tbsp sherry or sherry vinegar)
1 tsp sugar or agave syrup
a pinch nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 pomegranate, seeds separated
Char the peppers in open fire, barbeque or in the flame of a gas stove, like I did. Note that they need to be quite charred in order to peel easily and to be actually cooked and soft. I thought mine were done when they were floppy, but they could have been better cooked. Place them in a container with a lid to let the steam help membrane-like skin peel off. Peel them. Alternatively just roast the peppers in the oven for some 20 minutes (and no need to peel).
Make a slit in each pepper and remove the veins, seedpod and seeds, but don’t break off the base. This is somewhat difficult but doable.
Make the picadillo. Fry the onion in oil until translucent. Add the garlic and fry for one more minute. Add all the other picadillo ingredients and a splash of water and let simmer for a bit.
Stuff the peppers with the picadillo and top with the sauce and pomegranate seeds. The dish may be served warmed or at room temperature. Note that the sauce, at least if made with cashews, tends to act a bit weird when reheated and easily starts to solidify, as cashew sauces have a tendency to do.