September 2009 rozinalapz

When you bite into a Chile en Nogada, you get a taste of Mexican history and legend. This is the dish that bewitched the wedding guests in Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate.

The chiles not only looked good, they were indeed delicious — never before had Tita done such a marvelous job with them.

In the novel, the first wedding guest to react to the chiles in walnut sauce “immediately  recognized the heat in her limbs, the tickling sensation in the center of her body, the naughty thoughts, and she decided to leave with her husband before things went too far. When she left, the party started to break up.” All the other chile-eating guests quickly made their excuses , throwing heated looks at each other, and left. Everyone was in a hurry to make mad, passionate love.

The platters of chiles proudly wear the colors of the Mexican flag: the green of the chiles, the white of the nut sauce, the red of the pomegranates.

FEAchilesAccording to some historians, the dish that Esquival cast as an aphrodisiac was, in fact, invented in the 1800s by nuns in the town of Puebla. It was August 1821 and pomegranates were in season. The military commander Augustin de Iturbide had just signed the Treaty of Cordoba, granting Mexico its independence from Spain. He was travelling from Veracruz to Mexico City, and planned to stop in Puebla, where there would be a feast in his honour. The Augustinian nuns of Santa Monica Convent created a special dish in the colours of the Mexican flag: green chiles, white walnut sauce and red pomegranates.

Nowadays, Chiles en Nogada are served in September, the month Mexicans celebrate Independence Day. It’s not an easy dish to prepare,  but if you’re determined to try, google “chiles en nogada”  and “recipes.” Take your pick from the dozens of variations listed.

Or look for this dish on the menu at restaurants around town this month. One likely location is El Zarape, which specializes in traditional dishes. It’s at 3450 México street (between Oaxaca and Nayarit).

The last word goes to the magic storytelling of Laura Esquivel:

“The chiles disappeared in the blink of an eye. How long ago it seemed that Tita had felt like a chile in nut sauce left sitting on the platter out of etiquette, for not wanting to look greedy. Tita wondered whether the fact that there was not a single chile left on the platters was a sign that good manners had been forgotten or that the chiles were indeed splendid.”

(originally posted September 2009)