We were wandering the streets, picking up fruits and vegetables, buying homemade ice cream, and soaking up the hot sunny rays of the late afternoon sun. A gentleman, walking with a cane, came up to us with a scrap of paper and proceeded to tell us about the cooking classes that he and his wife hosts every Friday at a local hotel in in San Patricio-Melaque, Mexico.
I am a sucker for cooking classes and was keen to learn a Mexican dish or two. The cost was right, the class was a few days off, and I thought I would take the chance. I procrastinated for several days and finally, Friday morning (my bad) I send a quick email off asking if I could join the 1 o’clock class. There was still room! I was welcomed to attend and I was told not to be late (how did he know?) It was the first class of the season and on the menu was a very special dish, Chiles en nogada. The classes are running from November until April 2018. To book a class just email email@example.com or find him on Facebook or maybe he’ll approach you on the street.
Friday morning began like most other mornings in November on the Costalegre as I enjoyed the surf. A comfortable 26 degrees at sunrise but hot, humid and sticky by 10:00 a.m. I strolled past small shops, smiling children and heat drugged dogs on the short walk to a hotel on the opposite side of town. I entered the Hacienda de Melaque Hotel and was warmly greeted, in excellent English, by a young lady at the front desk who escorted me through the palm trees and gardens, past the pool to the outdoor class. Tables and chairs had been set up under the palapa, an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves, which are very common in this area.
Norma Azuicena Hernandez Guerrero, wow, that is a mouth full, was busy doing final touches while her husband Paco greeted arriving students. He would handle the questions and any translations that Azu might need.
The poblano peppers, a mild large green chili pepper, originating in the state of Puebla, Mexico were already sweating in a bag waiting to be scraped and peeled; a range of ingredients from onions to apricots to nuts were chopped and ready to get used. Prior to class starting Paco advised us that he would be emailing everyone the recipe after the class. He was true to his words as I had my handouts within 24 hours. Chiles en nogada, the original dish, is very complicated but Azu did a terrific job adapting the recipe so that it could easily be made in any kitchen.
The cooking class was part demonstration and part hands. Azu and Paco gave the history of the dish and talked about the key ingredients.
Chiles en nogada, is a classic dish with the tri colours representing the Mexican flag – green, white and red. The dish originated Puebla which has a rich history in food, dress and culture. Chiles en nogada was created by the nuns to honour a visit from General Augustin de Iturbide. Rumour has it that the nuns used up to 52 different ingredients in the original dish. Iturbide not only inspired this dish but he is credited with naming Mexico, creating the first flag and decisively gaining independence for Mexico on September 27, 1821. . The horrific part: He was executed by a firing squad on July 19, 1824 at the age of 40 leaving behind his family. Iturbide is acknowledged in the national anthem and his remains are in the Mexico City Cathedral. What a legacy!
The flag colours are represented by the peppers, the walnut crème sauce, and pomegranate arils. On a side note-pomegranates were introduced to Mexico by the Spanish Padres. It was cultivated in regions with arid climates in the old country and adapted beautifully in Mexico. September, October and November are normally when this dish is readily available.
We were all given a chance to scrape away the skins of the peppers, slice them open, add in the filling and then seal with toothpicks.
Azu made the batter – a light, airy meringue- got the flour ready for dredging, heated the oil and then carefully pan-fried the peppers. What I love about this dish is that you can do a lot of prep beforehand AND you can serve it at room temperature.
The whitish nut sauce was prepared using a stick of cinnamon, pecans, a thick sour cream, goat cheese, some sugar, and was quickly blended up.
Now one fluffy oil-roasted pepper was placed on a plate. Drizzling a thick sauce over the whole pepper and then garnishing with parsley and pomegranate arils were the final touches. My first bite was a surprise – the light crust was airy and not greasy or oily. The filling was a sweet-savoury delight. It wasn’t nearly as fattening as I thought it would be! It was enjoyed by all in the class and the majority of the students signed up for the next session.
Now that I’m back in Canada, I’ve had a bit of time to dig into the history of the dish, and have discovered deep historic roots steeped in a very important period of Mexico’s development. Be prepared to spend the time if you decide to follow some of the links below as you will be opening many doors into Mexican culture. For more photos visit this link.
It was my first time in San Patricio-Melaque, a very laid-back beach town. I love that they only took Mexican pesos (No US or Canadian dollars accepted) and that credit cards were not usually accepted. A very stress-free holiday where my main concern was not getting too much sun, wondering what was I going to eat and drink! Lots of Mexican families came down on the weekends. I loved watching the families of all ages, shapes and sizes. Plenty of body surfing. And the most amazing sunsets and sunrises.
For a piece on how pomegranates ended up in Mexico in the 17th century check out this piece by Karen Hursh Graber, Senior Food Editor for Mexconnect.
For another recipe check out this informative blog by Leslie Tellez and her most current site at http://www.lesleytellez.com/writing/ Oh too fun, I just read that she’s also a member of the IACP. I’ve been a member on and off since the mid 90s.
If you happen to be in San Patricio-Melaque, Mexico please email firstname.lastname@example.org or check him out on Facebook – he’s very quick to respond. Plus he also offers up Spanish classes if you want to improve your language skills.