Por una mirada, un mundo;
por una sonrisa, un cielo;
por un beso... yo no sé
qué te diera por un beso.
For a glance, a world;
For a smile, a heaven;
For a kiss, I don't know
what I would give you for a kiss.
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870) Poeta Español
Romance shouldn't be on anyone's "to-do" list, or involve a hurried trip to the mall. As everyone knows, romance starts in the heart, in the mind, the eyes and if you're like me, in the sharing of a meal. When we first met that special someone, I would bet that it all began at dinner, or at least over a cup of coffee. With a little forethought and planning, you can create a genuine and sincere moment to share with the one you love. For just a couple of hours, you can be Romeo and Juliet, Frida and Diego, or Harry and Sally.
For me, one of the greatest romantic couples of all time is Pedro and Tita in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Because of complicated family structures in the early 1900's, Pedro is coerced into marrying Tita's sister, yet all three, along with extended family members and eventually children, live under the same roof. Tita spends each day for 22 years yearning for the man sitting next to her at the dinner table. (Wow!)
Tita's cooking has magical effects on those who try her dishes, especially the final recipe she prepares: Chiles en Nogada or Poblano Chiles in Walnut Sauce. Originally created to celebrate the colors of the Mexican flag, Chiles en Nogada are only prepared on the most special of occasions. It's no wonder that the author crafted the story's climax to coincide with the serving of this dish: they are that good.
Chiles en Nogada - Poblano Chiles in Walnut Sauce (after Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate)
8 fresh chile poblano (do not remove stems)
½ lb ground pork
½ lb ground beef
1 small white onion, minced (about ¼ lb)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and minced
1 heaping tbls raisins (about ½ oz)
1 heaping tbls dried crystallized pineapple, minced (about ½ oz)
1 tomato, peeled seeded and chopped
1 ½ tsp sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tbls butter
2 oz unsalted walnuts
2 oz unsalted pecans
2 oz blanched unsalted almonds
4 oz queso cotija, finely grated (an aged fresh Mexican cheese, optional-if you can find it)
1 ½ cups half and half
Sea salt to taste
Wash the poblano chiles well, and roast directly on a gas flame, or under a broiler. Once the chiles have blistered and blackened, wrap them in a clean cotton towel, and cover with a glass bowl, in order to capture all of the steam. Allow to steam and cool for about 20 minutes. Remove them from the towel, and then carefully peel the chiles using your fingers. You can use a paring knife to scrape off any loose peel. Slit the chile lengthwise, turning out the interior bulb of the stem where the seeds are attached. Remove the seeds either by scraping them out, or by cutting out the bulb, while leaving the stem intact. Rinse the chiles to remove any stray bits of charred skin or clingy seeds. Set aside.
In a 10” skillet, brown the ground pork, beef and minced onion. Once the meat is no longer rare, add the remaining ingredients, and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.
Peel your pomegranate and liberate the seeds, taking care to keep them from bursting. The whole seeds will be your garnish.
To make the sauce, in a separate 10” skillet, melt the butter. Add all of the nuts, and allow to brown for about 7 minutes over medium heat, carefully watching that they do not scorch. Once browned, add the nuts to a food processor, blenders, or using an immersion blender, blend the nuts, adding the half and half as necessary to make a smooth sauce. The sauce should be the consistency of a thick, warm salad dressing. Return the sauce to the pan, salt to taste, add any remaining half and half, the queso cotija, and heat gently for about 10 minutes as you prepare the chiles.
Fill each of the chiles with a couple of spoonfuls of the meat mixture, and place on a platter with the open slit to the side or underneath. Do not overfill. Once your platter of chiles is ready, top with the warm sauce, and garnish with the pomegranate seeds.
Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as an appetizer
Recipe Point of Interest: The candied pineapple in this recipe is a replacement for the traditional Mexican acitrón, which is a sugared, crystallized barrel cactus.