Recipe: Chile En Nogada (after ‘Like Water for Chocolate’)
I was sixteen years old and it was a hot muggy seaside summer.
My father ran an art-house cinema overlooking the beach and we lived in a tiny shack right behind it.
I remember going to sleep at night with the sound of the waves crashing and the deep bass sounds of a car chase or a gunfight, or some romantic orchestral crescendo. I could pick the films that were playing by each muffled soundtrack vibrating through the thin walls.
It was in this quirky little cinema that I first saw the wonderful Mexican film Like Water for Chocolate and had my first intoxicating discovery of the sensuality of food.
In the film, Tita is passionately in love with Pedro, but because of an archaic tradition she is forbidden to marry him. Tita pours all of her pent up emotion into her cooking and creates mouthwatering recipes that inject anyone who eats them with all of the heartache, lust or grief that she’s consumed with. It’s a gorgeous film and as an impressionable sixteen-year-old it really shaped my ideas of romance.
There was one particular scene in the film that has stayed with me.
When Pedro’s daughter gets married, Tita spends days creating a sumptuous feast of Chile En Nogada. The wedding is an intimate banquet by a river, with dancing and music and of course, Tita’s amazing food. After the guests eat the meal that Tita serves they are all overcome with passion, and one by one they couple up and sidle off into the long grass to give into their desire. It’s a delightful scene.
For Valentine’s Day I decided to re-create Tita’s aphrodisiacal recipe. After all, what better way to enjoy a sensuous evening than with delicious food prepared with loving hands.
8 fresh chile poblano (do not remove the stems)
500 grams of lean organic beef (I always source meat from our local ethical butcher) Grass Roots Urban Butcher
I small white onion, chopped finely
1 Granny Smith apple, grated
1 heaped tablespoon of currants
1 heaped tablespoon of dried crystallised pineapple (this is in lieu of traditional Mexican acitrón, which is a sugared, crystallised barrel cactus)
8 cherry tomatoes, chopped finely
A little shake of sugar, or a teaspoon of honey to sweeten
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of butter
A small handful of walnuts
A small handful of pecans
A small handful of unsalted almonds
Milk and water to bring it to a smooth consistency
First wash the chiles and roast them directly on a gas flame or under the grill. Once the chiles have blistered and browned, wrap them in a clean tea towel and cover them in a glass bowl in order to catch all the steam. Let them cool for 20 minutes. Remove the skins and seeds and set aside.
In a frying pan, brown the beef and onion, add the remaining ingredients, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
To make the sauce, melt the butter and add the nuts until they are browned, then transfer the mixture to a blender where you can add some milk and water and blend until it reaches a smooth creamy consistency. Add a little salt to taste.
Put a good couple of spoonfuls of the beef mixture into each chile and top with the nut dressing. Use the pomegranate seeds as a sweet garnish.
This recipe is traditionally served hot, but I think it’s lovely and sweet served cold too, for a summer supper.
Recipe and photography by Nina Gibbs