from the university of mexican cooking and beautiful ancient woman, comes
Chiles en Nogada
literally translates as " chiles in your nose" or "chiles in dark walnut wood" or something too poetic for these rough fingers to pass along. you must start as Senora Lopez-Sol does, meditating not on the dish nor your desires nor even the bloody succession that is the history of mexico, but rather those young stomachs to whom you've dedicated your life, and what they simply will not eat.
in this case the traditional filling has been politely rejected by two young guests on pseudo-religious grounds (it's the only way to explain it over here, that works). both the traditional and vegetarian fillings have been rejected by a studious son.
so the warm light finds two senoras and three pans sizzling around the stove and you my friend are going to hear about the vegetarian one.
four persons seem to want:
half a white onion, diced
one smallish eggplant in scrabble-tiled cubes
an equal volume of mushrooms to eggplant
and, to demonstrate the creativity and abundants of the ancients:
1 combined cup of pinenuts, walnuts, almondnuts
as many raisins as you had almonds
the infamous "salsa inglesa"
that's shopping for the filling but when you get to the kitchen the first thing you're going to do is roast the chiles. whole green chile poblanos, mercilessly decapitated, deseeded, and deveined before laying them next to the sacred gas fire. the skin will blister, pop, and blacken; they will be done long after you try to remove them from the fire. which is to say: maintain hope! trust the coming blackness and retire the chiles from the flame (always turning, seeking greener angles) only when entirely soft and black.
as each chile finishes (you might be able to handle two or three at a time) move it to a plastic bag or otherwise sealed environment, so its own steaming flesh may help to loosen the burned papery skin.
this whole time, as you're waiting for the second chile to roast -- the first one we were mesmerized, briefly saved from the monotony of time -- you've been cutting onions and eggplant, mushrooms and fruit.
the onions you cut first and set to sauté in olive oil on medium heat, adding the eggplant and mushrooms when translucent. i didn't see her do it, but you could salt the eggplant and let them sweat before carrying them to the fire -- just be sure to rinse and to lightly squeeze off the bitter juices.
as they vegetables cook down you humans soak the almonds and walnuts in hot water to blanche the tan perfection of their skins, exposing the tender white underbellies within. the almonds will be easier and the walnuts perhaps impossible, depending on your species. if you can't, then you can't. eat one and move on.
chop all the fruits and nuts. even the raisins. mix together or keep in separate beautiful ceramic bowls so when the masses come in for another beer they Know the coming Beauty.
add the fruits, salt, and pepper to your vegetables when they seem to have given up most of their water. take a breath to contemplate the " salsa inglesa". a translation and appopriation of the british "worcestershire", the "salsa inglesa" seems to be a swamp broth of low-quality soy sauce, vinegar, MSG, and caramel coloring. if i had any moral force upon which to draw and speak with authority, i would recommend against it.
perhaps one day, vendra.
perhaps your assistants have peeled their peppers. perhaps they have taken the green and black wonders from their hermetic cave and gently scraped them with a small knife, flaking off the black paper to reveal a tender verdant flesh below. perhaps they have placed the peppers, intact and lovingly prepared, on a blue ceramic plate for your stuffing pleasure.
in any case, you've managed your relleno until moist but not wet -- soft chunks of fruit, tender vegetables, rehydrated bits of nut, a pleasant and soft sweetness, the smiling west wind. you will have a pan of hot filling in one hand and a plate of empty peppers in the other. the rest is as obvious as the spring.
for the salsa, the real "nogada", brace yourself, bury any sympathies for the rights of mammalian bodily fluids, and collect the following:
1 cup of walnuts (similarly blanched and peeled, if possible)
1/2 liter of crema (like sour cream, but thinner, you could probably use half sour cream and half water)
200g of queso panela (gringos use cream cheese)
1/4 cup of pure white refined sugar
before proceeding it's very important to order your ideological priorities. personally i don't eat white sugar. personally, i don't dig on factory dairy products. personally, to be totally honest, i only eat organic fruits and vegetables. and i know i am not the only one.
the joke is there's very little that is personal in the real world, the world of dust and grandmothers and unconditional love and rolling down the river without a semblance of a helmet. so when three generations of beautiful mexican women are teaching me how to live and the 13th chapter of the gospel involves two heaping plastic spoons of heaping plastic sugar, i'm too caught up in the gratitude (with a side of hunger and a rotting sweet tooth) to complain.*
blend over any controversy, taste for sweetness -- more than a tad, less than a smoothie -- and serve, lavishly over the top of the stuffed, reposing chiles. it's fundamental to the tradition to garnish with chopped cilantro and pomegranate seeds, whether they're in season or not. which is why it's best to control the young egos of spring and save the effort for the just time.
pictures to come.
* ps: if it gets to the point in my life where i have a choice about anything, i would make a mixed walnut/almond cream (3/1), thinner than "butter" and thicker than "milk", and use that for the nogada. moreso i'd dash in the lightest dust of cinnamon (if anybody guesses, it's too much) and a spoon of cactus honey for the sweetener. if i didn't have the money to buy the nuts i would get (plain) soy yogurt or make it from (plain) soymilk, to whip and possibly to thin. either way the vegan and animal kingdom parts of your soul can relax, and with the former there's no taint of the big monoculture industries...