Chiles en Nogada (Chilies in Walnut Sauce)

Recipe updated Nov 14, 2013

Guaymas Restaurant in Tiburon is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Northern California and their Chile Poblano is the best item on the menu. It is a green poblano chili stuffed with a picadillo and covered in a walnut creme sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

Chiles en Nogada (chilies in walnut sauce) is a classic Mexican dish, and is a specialty of the city of Puebla. Here’s what Diana Kennedy in her seminal The Cuisines of Mexico has to say about the dish:

The recipe is said to have been concocted by the grateful people of Puebla, who were giving a banquet in honor of Don Agustin de Iturbide’s saint’s day, August 28 in 1821. He and his followers had led the final revolt against Spanish domination; as self-proclaimed emperor he had just signed the Treaty of Cordoba. All the dishes at the banquest were concocted of ingredients of the color of the Mexican flag; in this dish were the green chilies, the white sauce, and the red pomegranate seeds.

The classic Mexican dish uses a pork picadillo with dried fruits and spices. Guaymas uses ground chicken. My adaptation of this recipe uses ground turkey. This dish is a bit involved, but the effort is worth it. It really is an extraordinary blend of flavors. If you ever get to Guyamas Restaurant in Tiburon, Mill Valley California, by all means order it! You won’t be disappointed.

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Chiles en Nogada (Chilies in Walnut Sauce) Recipe

  • Prep time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6.

You must start this dish one day ahead by soaking the walnuts for the nogada sauce overnight.

We are using ground turkey in this recipe, you could also easily use ground chicken or pork.

Ingredients

The Walnut Sauce:

  • 1 heaping cup of shelled walnut halves
  • Milk (about 2 cups)
  • 1/4 lb queso fresco (or farmer's cheese)
  • 1 1/2 cups thick sour cream (or creme fraiche)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

The Chiles:

  • 6 large poblano chiles (use only poblanos, not another type of chile, for this dish)

The Picadillo:

  • 1 1/4 pounds ground turkey thigh meat
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil or canola oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup of crushed, fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of golden raisins
  • 2 Tbsp blanched and slivered almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, chopped

Garnish:

  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

Method

THE NIGHT BEFORE

1 Remove the papery bitter skins from the walnut pieces. (This is the hard part.) Sometimes the skins easily rub off. I have found that usually, for us, the skins don't easily peel off and we need to blanch them for one minute in boiling water first, to loosen the skins. If you blanch the walnuts, let them cool to the touch and carefully peel off as much of the bitter skins as you can. This is painstaking work, but unless your walnuts are shed of their bitter skins, the sauce may be a bit bitter.

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2 Place the walnuts in a bowl, cover them with milk to soak, and chill them overnight in the refrigerator.

 

THE DAY OF

Roast the chiles:

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3 Place the chiles directly over the flame of a gas stove, or place under a hot broiler, to char the outside tough skin. Turn the chiles to char them on all sides. Get as much of the outside skin blackened as possible, it will be easier to remove that way. (See How to roast chile peppers over a gas flame tutorial using Anaheim chiles.)

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4 Place the blackened chiles in a bowl and cover with a plate or damp clean towel and let sit for 20 minutes. The burned skin will then flake off very easily and the flesh will become a little more cooked in the steam. Make a slit in the side of each chili and carefully remove the seeds and veins. Be careful to leave the top of the chili, the part around the base of the stem, intact. (A tip from Diana Kennedy: if you taste the chiles and they are too spicy hot, soak them in a mild vinegar and water solution for about 30 minutes.) Rinse the chilies and pat them dry.

 

Make the walnut sauce:

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 5 Drain the walnuts. Place the soaked and drained walnuts, the queso fresco, sour cream, sugar, and cinnamon into a blender and purée until completely smooth.

 

Make the picadillo stuffing:

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6 Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large wide saucepan on medium high heat. Working in batches to prevent crowding the pan, brown the meat on at least one side, sprinkling the meat with a little kosher salt as it cooks. Add another tablespoon of oil if needed for the subsequent batches. Remove meat to a bowl and set aside.

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7 Add a tablespoon of cooking oil to the pan and heat on medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, and garlic and cook another minute.

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8 Melt butter in the pan and return the ground meat to the pan and use a wooden spoon to break up any clumps.  Add the crushed tomatoes, golden raisins, and chopped slivered almonds. If the mixture seems a little dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. Add chopped apple to the picadillo mixture. Adjust spices, add more cinnamon, salt, ground cloves to taste (go easy on the cloves, they can overpower).

 

Assemble the chiles en nogada:

10 Stuff the chilies with the picadillo until they are well filled out. Place them on individual plates or on a serving platter.

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11 To serve, cover the stuffed chiles with the walnut sauce and sprinkle with pomegranate arils and chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.

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Links:

Vegetarian version of chiles en nogada

Chiles en Nogada on Simply Recipes

29 Comments

  1. Marian McWhorter

    I always make this very same recipe for our Christmas dinner in Houston, Texas. It is one of my favorite dishes in the world, BUT, I do hate peeling those walnuts! Does anyone know of a source for buying them already peeled/blanched? I have tried the soaking-overnight method, but it still takes hours and hours to get the skins off. Thos little pickers that go with the old-timey wooden nut bowls help, but nothing helps ENOUGH. Today, I read an article that suggests that you should drop the shelled nuts in boiling water for 2 minutes and then dip them in ice water. I’m going to try that, to see if it’s any better. Also, last year, I was advised to buy FRESH walnuts, and that seemed to help some. I was able to find them at our local Farmer’s Market, and I paid a little extra to have them shelled. No hope for getting them peeled, though.

    Any ideas, Anyone?

    Marian

  2. Vicki

    This sounds so good! One question – it’s supposed to be served room temp, correct?

  3. drew

    I had it at Guaymas a couple of weeks ago and the chiles were definitely warm and the sauce was slightly cooler, perhaps just from the chiles. Either way, the dish itself was not room temperature. Great dish and Guaymas was a great restaurant. Best tamales I’ve ever had!!

  4. Anonymous

    On a recent visit to San Antonio, I stayed at a wonderful B&B named Bonner Gardens and the proprietess recommended LaFonda restaurant where I had my first Chile de Nogada!!! It was a special for Mexican Independence Day. It was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate! I will try to reproduce it at a later date and thanks for ALL your tips!!

  5. Mark Banks

    Chiles en nogada can be served cold or, preferably, at room temperature. They shouldn’t usually be served warm. This applies to both the chiles and the “nogada” or walnut sauce. If you are using fresh walnuts, you should most definitely peel the skins from the nuts, as the skins will give the sauce a bitter flavor. However, if you are using shelled walnuts from a bag, you can go ahead and use them with the skin and all. The only difference will be a slightly less white sauce with some very small, almost undetectible brown speckles. Hope this helps. Buen provecho!

  6. Tom

    Just tried this dish @ the red cabbage restaurant in Puerta Vajarta and it was fantastic. Can’t wait to make it myself. The chilies were served cold and the sauce was room temprature. delicious!!

  7. Chris

    Ok, so, I am actually from Puebla and your recipe sounds good, though not completely accurate but, ok in essentials, I mean, you´re supposed to add manzana panochera (a kind of mix between a red and a yellow apple) and platano macho (a harder, darker type of banana) to the picadillo and it is supposed to be capeado in the end, that is covered in beaten egg whites then fried in a lot of oil until golden then you pour the nogada on top of it and so on… ok I’m not that great with English but you get the idea right? By the way your roast beef recipe is awesome!!! (the main reason I found this page)

  8. Alejandra

    I have learned to make Chiles en Nogada as a mother to mother tradition in the family (though we don’t really know who was the first). When we are able to find fresh walnuts we peel them at once and freeze them in milk to prevent them from drying. But if we use dry ones in a bag, we put those in the blender to make the sauce. However, we make a not so sweet nogada since the filling should be a little sweet from the fruit and put in the blender the fresh cheese, half a small cream cheese, the nuts, sour cream, a little bit of milk and salt and pepper.
    You will find thousands of different ways to eat Chiles en Nogada, my family eats them battered in egg whites as well as without batter and at room temperature, but some people eat them warm.
    I believe you should try to find which way they taste better for you and enjoy them since they are only eaten between august and september when you find all the ingredients fresh in Mexico

  9. Mexicana

    The original recipe calls for peeled walnuts because the skin makes the sauce bitter. The best way to peel them is to leave the walnuts in cold water for ona night, on the next day the skin will ve soft and will peel easily. I have done this and its not difficult at all.

    Saludos, disfruten el platillo.

  10. tessellate

    To peel walnuts, the easiest way is to toast them. I learned this technique from “The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen” by Peter Berly (Harper Collins, 2000) Place shelled walnuts on a cookie sheet in a 350° oven for about 7 or 8 minutes, stirring halfway through so nuts toast evenly. The bitter skins become brittle and the oil released by the nuts help to loosen their skins. Toasting the nuts also brings out the flavor carried by the oil. Using a crumpled net bag helps to rub the skins off as well. It is still tedious. Toasting this way works for pecans as well. But almonds need to be blanched and skinned before toasting.

  11. Patti

    For all lovers of this recipe, I highly recommend reading or viewing “Like Water for Chocolate,” the novel by Laura Esquivel, and the movie with a screenplay written by the same. This traditional dish is served at a wedding feast, and the description of the preparation (and the enjoyment) will have your mouth watering and you will be clamoring to enjoy such a wonderful delicacy! Also, a traditional recipe is included in the book, though it’s for 25 chiles, and the directions are actually scattered throughout the chapter. Nonetheless, food lovers (and all lovers) should read this book or see the movie, or better yet, both! (The book is what sent me in search of a recipe I could follow more easily than that in the book. I simply must try it!)

  12. Margaret

    I just got back from Puerto Vallarta and also had these at the Red Cabbage Restaurant. The single most incredible combination of flavors I have ever experienced. The restaurant has a cookbook, which credits the nuns of Puebla with this dish, among many other culinary creations. Much credit goes also to the fantastic chef Chuy at the Red Cabbage.

  13. Fumiko

    I’m a San Francisco native with Chiles en Nogada as my utmost favorite Mexican dish. I’ve been living in Mexico for about 11 years and I’ve tried the walnuts here. They are definitely of a different variety, though I can’t say which. The flesh is so much softer and whiter when you buy them fresh, unlike the ones I’ve tried back in California, and they peel like a charm. They are called “nuez de la Castilla” here (well, at least in Mexico City; can’t be sure of the rest of the country) and their texture is even a bit rubbery. There is no one recipe for Chiles en Nogada because everyone in Mexico seems to have their own variation on the recipe, like every other dish here. And that, I think, is the beauty of cooking.
    So for everyone who has been having trouble with the walnut peeling, just know that it’s the variety of nut and not the blanching or or the soaking.

  14. Heide DeMorris

    I was in Mexico City at the end of August and had Chiles en Nogada for the first time at a little hole-in-the wall cafe/restaurant in the middle of a market near Frida Kahlo’s house. I thought I had died and gone to heavan! I even took pictures of the dish so I could remember it, and asked the cook to tell me, on video, how she prepared it. Then I had the pleasure of eating at Las Mananitas in Cuernavaca – where I promptly ordered Chiles en Nogada again. (I also highly recommend their Mojitos) Absolutely riquisimo! It was served very warm at the cafe, though the sauce was cold. Las Manaitas served the entire dish cold. Both were fabulous.

  15. Brian

    I had this in Tepoztlan, except it had ground beef. I’m not going to lie. I hated it because it was way too sweet for me. I think this is just personal taste that I, in general like my meet savory or spicy and not sweet. To each their own.

  16. Elizabeth

    — STUFFING —
    Ground Beef and/or pork (Picadillo… very small)
    Olive Oil
    Onion
    Garlic
    Potato
    Tomato Puree
    Carrot
    Salt
    Pepper
    >>> FRUITS (Mix into stuffing at the end, cook for 6 mins)
    Apples
    Pears
    Peach
    Plantain
    Candied Cactus Leaves “Acitron”
    Raisins
    Almond and/or Pecans
    Sugar
    >>>> SPICES (bouquet garni or mortar and pestle)
    Cinnamon
    Thyme
    Marjoram
    Bay leaf
    Cloves
    Allspice

    — POBLANO CHILIES —
    Roast in a sauce pan with olive oil on high.
    Put in plastic bag 20 mins.
    Devein and peel in cold water.

    — NOGADA — (Blended sauce)
    Queso Fresco
    Sour Cream
    Half and Half or Creme Fresh (optional)
    Worcestershire (optional)
    Ground Pecans or Walnuts
    Honey (optional)
    Milk can be added to thin out the sauce
    White Wine (optional)
    Salt and Pepper

    — GARNISH —
    Pomegranate Seeds
    Cilantro or Parsley
    Pine Nuts

  17. Paul in Davis

    Elise, you can imagine how excited a was to discover that this recipe was available to me. I just last weekend discovered Tiburon and the Angel Island ferry. We capped off a magical family bike/ferry trip with a trip to the candy store and probably the best mexican food I have ever tasted.
    It was pure luck that I picked the Chile Relleno, something I hardly ever order. Guyamas staff, location and food are perhaps one of the most amazing dining I have experienced in years. Que Rico!

  18. helen

    Yummy! I just love this dish, and although it is a lot of work, it is worth all of it. This was made up by the nuns in a convent, where they cooked for Iturbide, and actually, it is the most famous kitchen in Mexico, all covered in talavera tiles.

    The nuts are Nueces de Castilla, is a variety, hard, rugged shell, almost yellowish, very hard shell, but easy to peel. Otherwise, I use pecans, but either way it is easier to soak them overnight, next day peel them, and then soak them in milk.
    Chilies are not supposed to be fried, they are served either warm or at room temp. They are GREEN, the sauce is WHITE and the pomegranate is RED, our flag colors, and the sauce must be eaten within two days because it curdles.
    Enjoy!

  19. Sandra Dee

    I LOVE chilies en nogada. We make sure we’re in Vallarta every year during Mexican holiday just so we can have chilies en nogada at the best place ever! Of course, I can’t think of the name. I just know it’s on the Malecon. At that restaurant, the nogada dish is served warm and is less “sweet” and is absolutely delicious. At another place, in Nuevo Vallarta, the dish is served cold, with the salads, and is a bit sweeter. I now make it every Christmas Eve and am on my way to the grocer for the ingredients today. I usually soak the walnuts in milk overnight and use a new fingernail brush to scrub them clean. It’s a pain but worth it.

  20. Carole Terwilliger Meyers

    I just had this dish for the first time a few weeks ago in San Miguel de Allende. I’m still thinking about it. I’m pleased to learn that Guaymas restaurant makes it and plan to try it there soon. For more information about the restaurant where I enjoyed it and for the recipe used there (which uses ground beef), check out my blog
    http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2009/10/good-eats-bugambilia-san-miguel-de.html

  21. Aby

    Can I combine the chiles en nogada with wine? if so, which one?

    Great question, I have no idea. I usually drink beer with Mexican food. If anyone else has suggestions, please chime in. ~Elise

  22. Lisj

    If you put a cream cheese (8 oz)and 2 liters of heavy cream to the shelled walnut 250grs. ,1 teaspoon of clove , 1 spoon of cinamon, and sugar to taste and mix everything in the mixer. You will love it.

  23. MS

    A Mexican friend of mine suggests using blanched almonds instead of the walnuts because of the peeling problem. She said it isn’t perfectly authentic, but is a lovely dish in its own right. I haven’t tried it, but she is a GREAT cook. Everything she ever made for us has been fantastic, so I’m guessing this would work.

  24. beatriz

    Hi amigos:
    I love them! so good, one the best delicatessen we have in mexican gastronomy ..a tip, to remove the skin from walnuts, you have to put them in very hot water for 3 min, try to smash them with your fingerprints, moving your fingers, and voila! the skin is believed to be soured, that is why you have to remove it; the chiles with the stuffing can be cold, or at room temp, but the walnut sauce has to be hot, definitive! and its got to be pork, or at least meat, or half & half, never chicken. greetings

  25. David Ehrlich

    I think if you will pick the walnuts a few days before they are fully ripe, they will peel easily. I have done that here in California. the meat is white and has a lovely cartilagenous texture; the flexibility of the young nuts allows the skin to come off easily. I use these peeled nuts also in making the famous Italian walnut sauce for pumpkin ravioli.

  26. Elaine Wilson

    My absolute favourite Mexican dish. First tried it in a restaurant at the base of the mountain temple in Tepoztlan. Has anyone ever tried using fresh chestnuts instead of walnuts? Is this totally blasphemous or does anyone think it will work?

    • Corinne Freestone

      Hi Elaine – i am back from Mexico cooking holiday (Sept 2014) and was also in Tepoytlan… well, i don’t know about blashemous or politically correct, but to me the option chestnuts sounds interesting and worth to have a go. Let me know how it turned out, it could be a very interesting personalised version “Chile en nogada Elaine” …

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