Love for Mexico

Chiles en Nogada: A Delicious Patriotic Mexican Treat August 12 2019, 0 Comments

By Julie R Butler

There’s plenty to get excited about with Mexico’s fiestas patrias coming up; but one of the best things about late summer for Mexicans is that it’s time to bust out the chiles en nogada

If not the “national dish” of Mexico (there’s strong competition with mole for that title), chiles en nogada is certainly the most patriotic of Mexican dishes. This exquisite concoction that hails from the city of Puebla has a strong connection with Mexico's independence, and it is served throughout the country during the months of August and September, when the signature ingredients are in season. So let’s take a look at the tri-colored dish that serves as a delicious example of how Mexican cuisine is deeply intertwined with the history, culture, and identity of the Mexican people.

Chiles en Nogada: The Dish

Chiles en nogada consists of roasted poblano chiles that are stuffed with a stew of picadillo, fruit, and nuts, then bathed in a silky white walnut creme sauce and garnished with bright red pomegranate seeds and fresh green parsley.

Preparing Chiles en Nogada
Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia, CC BY-SA 3.0

There are many variations on the stuffing, but it’s generally made with ground or chopped meat stewed with seasonal fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches, along with nuts, raisins, candied fruits, and spices, among other ingredients. Originally, acitrón, or crystalized cactus pulp, was used; but since the barrel cactus that this candy is made from is so slow growing that its use has caused it to become endangered, other crystalized fruits such as ate are substituted. The stuffed peppers may or may not be battered and fried.

Barrel cactus with acitrón
Photo  by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, CC BY-SA 3.0

Traditionally, the walnuts for the nogada were peeled laboriously by hand and ground to a smooth paste with a metate, a mortar and pestle made of volcanic stone. Today, there are shortcuts you can take preparing the sauce, but it’s considered essential that the walnuts be freshly harvested, as older walnuts will ruin the rich flavor of this creamy sauce.

The pomegranate seeds will, of course, be fresh and in season at this time of year, and they add bright pops of flavor. More importantly, though, they provide their red color, which goes with the white sauce and the green parsley to create a remarkable culinary tribute to la bandera nacional de Mexico.

Half-peeled pomegranate
Image by Prathyush Thomas, GFDL 1.2

Chiles en Nogada: The Legend

While there are several different stories about its invention, but the most prevalent chiles en nogada creation story says that it was invented by the Augustinian nuns of the Santa Monica convent in Puebla. According to this legend, after signing the Treaty of Córdoba, which established Mexican independence from Spain, Agustín de Iturbide was traveling to Mexico City; and as he passed through the city of Puebla, the Augustinian nuns honored the war hero) with this special dish.

One version of this story also has it that the nuns were further motivated to create something extra special because the event occurred on the 28th of August – which is Saint Augustine Day, making it the general’s saint day.

Entrance of the Trigarante Army to Mexico City in 1821
Public Domain 

Chiles en Nogada:  The Traditions

While enjoyed throughout Mexico in the late summer, when stone fruits, pomegranates, and walnuts are in season, chiles en nodada are the pride of Puebla, and the dish is celebrated at the Feria de Chile en Nogada in San Andrés Calpan, Puebla during the first weeks of August.

This special dish is also eaten by many Mexicans on 28 August, Saint Augustine Day. However, the celebrations of the nation’s independence during the month of September bring out the love of patria; and for Mexicans, you can’t get more patriotic than eating amazing food that’s as rich in historical and cultural significance as it is in flavor and flair!

JULIE R BUTLER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR LIVING IN PÁTZCUARO, MICHOACÁN. SHE HAS 20-PLUS YEARS' EXPERIENCE EXPLORING MÉXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA, ARGENTINA, AND URUGUAY. IN ADDITION TO WRITING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF LIVING IN MÉXICO, SHE SPECIALIZES NEW TECHNOLOGIES – PARTICULARLY, HYDROPONICS AND SMART-CITY TECH. ONLINE PORTFOLIO: HTTPS://JULIERBUTLER.CONTENTLY.COM/

Mexican Food Abroad vs. Mexican Food in Mexico August 12 2019, 0 Comments

By Julie R Butler

Tacos and enchiladas on a combo plate filled out with rice and refried beans covered with a mound of melted yellow cheese and a dollop of sour cream – yeah, it sounds delicioso, but that’s not something you’re likely to find at a restaurant in Mexico. Even as the growing Mexican-American population has been raising the visibility of authentic Mexican cuisine across the United States, there’s still a disconnect between what people outside Mexico think of as Mexican food versus what the food is actually like in Mexico. Here are a few examples.

Cheesy Mexican-American food
Photo by Alexandra Golovac on Unsplash

Nachos are Not Really Mexican

Let’s get just this one out of the way to start with: Nachos are not really Mexican. Although the mythology has it that nachos were invented by a guy called Nacho in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, it should be understood that the plate of totopos topped with melted cheese and jalapeños was supposedly created for a group of gringas who were hungry at a time of day when Mexicans don’t usually eat meals.

What you will find in some restaurants in Mexico is that totopos may be brought to the table as an appetizer along with pico de gallo or other salsas piquantes, although you’re just as likely to receive bread or rolls.

Mexicans Aren’t Cheeseheads

If the nacho creation story is true, I guarantee that those first ones were not coated with Velveeta or any other type of processed cheese product that has nothing to do with actual cheese besides the name.

So what kind of cheese might Nacho have used? Maybe queso Chihuahua, which was introduced to Mexico by Mennonites and is the closest thing there is to cheddar in the country. Other possibilities would be queso asadero and queso manchego, which also melt well. 

Note that none of these cheeses even comes close to the sharpness of cheddar or the strong flavors of many European cheeses, and that Monterey Jack is often used for Mexican-American dishes precisely because of its mild flavor.

As for the impression that there’s lots of melted cheese involved in authentic Mexican food – it’s just not true. Queso panela, queso doble crema, and requesón are used for different purposes, but if there is a cheese topping on hot food, it’s likely to be salty, crumbly queso Cotija. In general, Mexico is not much of a cheese culture.


Tex-Mex and Other Varieties of Mexican-American Cuisine

Until fairly recently, many foods that passed as Mexican were actually Tex-Mex, including chili con carne, fajitas, and chimichangas. I grew up thinking that those envelopes of chili powder and taco seasoning for the ground hamburger we used to put into pre-formed hard taco shells held the flavors of Mexico, only to learn that the cumin in those is peculiar to San Antonio and the Moroccan influence of workers brought over from the Canary Islands by the Spanish during the 16th century. In reality, chili powders in Mexico have salt and lime flavoring but not cumin.

And of course, the other border states of New Mexico, Arizona, and California have made their unique contributions – take New Mexico green chiles, for example – and cities from New York to L.A. have their own riffs on Mexican-American cuisine.

The Farther Away from Mexico You Get...

Don’t assume that you’ll find Mexican food throughout Latin America, because the farther away from Mexico you get, the less likely you are to find authentic flavors and textures of the real thing. Argentina and Chile are a long way away and lack the indigenous influences that exist in Mexico.

Also, if you ever find yourself in Australia craving Mexican food, be warned! There aren’t many Mexicans in this far-flung corner of the world. But that hasn’t stopped enterprising Chileans from posing as Mexicans, opening Mexican restaurants, and serving food that resembles Mexican food – or at least what they believe to be Mexican food (marinara sauce and salsa roja are interchangeable, right?!)

The moral of the story, kids, is that if you want real, authentic Mexican food, come to Mexico!

JULIE R BUTLER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR LIVING IN PÁTZCUARO, MICHOACÁN. SHE HAS 20-PLUS YEARS' EXPERIENCE EXPLORING MÉXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA, ARGENTINA, AND URUGUAY. IN ADDITION TO WRITING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF LIVING IN MÉXICO, SHE SPECIALIZES NEW TECHNOLOGIES – PARTICULARLY, HYDROPONICS AND SMART-CITY TECH. ONLINE PORTFOLIO: HTTPS://JULIERBUTLER.CONTENTLY.COM/