Visit the Chile en Nogada Festival in Calpan
By Karen Chávez |
Go to the Chile en Nogada Festival in Calpan, learn to prepare this historic Mexican dish and visit the magnificent Former Convent of San Andres to find colonial architecture and tequitqui art.
DINKtravelers, your world travel guide, loves Mexican food, which has been declared World Heritage. That’s why we’ve written about delicious dishes such as the cochinita pibil and other typical recipes that will make visitors fall in love with the country. Today is your chance to enjoy another culinary delight that represents the three colors depicted in the Mexican flag: Chiles en Nogada.
History of the Chiles en Nogada
According to the legend, this dish was invented by the nuns of the Convent of Santa Monica, in downtown Puebla. They say the military leader Agustin de Iturbide was leading his army to Veracruz in order to sign the Act of Independence of Mexico and, when the bishop of Puebla found out they would ride across the city, he asked the nuns to prepare something special for them. The nuns used ingredients that were in season in order to offer the future emperor of Mexico a banquet that reflected the triumph of the Trigarante Army.
However, some people say that chiles en nogada (chili pepper in walnut sauce) were not created in the convent. Prehispanic people commonly ate chili pepper and some researchers say it was them who had the idea of filling chili with different ingredients many years before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. Then, the Europeans brought together their traditions with the ideas and ingredients used in the American territory. In fact, for three centuries before the Independence, they had already been combining all the ingredients required to prepare a chile in nogada, so perhaps the recipe was perfected throughout time. By 1821, when Iturbide tried the nuns’ recipe, it’s probable that the dish already existed and that they only added parsley and pomegranate in order to resemble the flag of the triumphant army.
Chile en Nogada Festival in Calpan
Although chiles en nogada are typical from the state of Puebla, Calpan is the municipality that produces the greatest amount and varieties of this dish. This is because the ingredients used in the recipe: poblano chili, peach, apple, pear, pomegranate and meat are all grown in Calpan. Also, the inhabitants of Calpan are great walnut producers, a nut that is found at its best between July and September.
Calpan means “the place with many houses”. Each year, they host a fair dedicated to the famous chile en nogada. Between August and September, local restaurants, chefs and homemakers prepare the traditional recipe that you can try at this event, established in front of the former Convent of San Andres Calpan.
Convent of San Andres Calpan
After satisfying your taste buds, feed your culture by visiting the Former Convent of San Andres. It was built in 1548 by the Franciscan order. It’s one of the best-preserved convents from the 16thcentury and its most beautiful architectural details are the chapels located at the corners of the atrium. They’re a great example of tequitqui art; that is, indigenous work directed by the friars.
Plan your visiting hours between 10:00 and 17:00h.
How to Cook Chiles en Nogada
You’ll definitely want to repeat the recipe at home after visiting the Chile en Nogada Fair in Calpan, so we’ll tell you how to prepare them. You’ll need: poblano chile, walnuts, peaches, pear, apples, hibiscus flower (read Substitute acitron, below) and pomegranate. All the fruits must be in season (August-September) because they need to be fresh. Walnuts usually grow in August, and when it’s fresh it oozes a milky liquid. You can choose between ground pork meat, beef or a combination of both. If you want, you can add plantains, raisins, sherry and, for the sauce, goat cheese. For the coating you’ll need flour, eggs and oil.
- Broil the chili directly on the stove until the skin burns slightly. Once they’re cold enough to handle them, peel them and cut them open to discard the seeds.
- Cook the meat with salt, onion and garlic. Once it’s cooked, add the apple, peach, pear, and a little while later, add the banana and raisins. Mix the ingredients.
- For the sauce, grind the nuts and beat them with milk, goat cheese and sherry until all the ingredients blend into a thick sauce. Season with salt.
- Fill each chili with meat and then bathe them in batter. For the batter, beat the eggs until stiff. Cover each chili with flour, bathe them in the eggs batter and then cover them with oil. Make sure the batter is thick. Fry the chili peppers until they’re slightly golden.
- Serve the chili peppers and cover them with the walnut sauce. Garnish with parsley and pomegranate. That’s it! Enjoy!
Did you know that acitron (candied cactus) is in danger of extinction? This candy was commonly used in the original chiles en nogada recipe, but now it’s scarce. Acitron comes from a special cactus known as barrel cactus. To make the candied cactus they coat the plant with sugar until they get a syrup that has such a high concentration of sugar that it can’t dissolve in water.
Its production used to be controlled but then it increased together with the irregular exploitation of the plant’s habitat. The good news is that cooking relies on experimentation. And since DINKtravelers believes in the responsible consumption of natural resources, we want to suggest other ingredients you can use instead of candied cactus. As strange as it may sound, our favorite substitute is hibiscus. Once it’s candied, this fruit complements the recipe perfectly. However, you can also use other cactus fruits such as chayote, xoconostle, or even quince. We guarantee that your chiles en nogada will still taste great and you’ll be helping the environment with this simple substitution.
Walnut trees produce a green fruit whose seed is what we know as walnut. In order to grow these trees you must wait from 15 to 20 years and you must take care of them during winter so that they don’t whither in the cold. Growing walnuts is truly a work of patience.
Why are Chiles en Nogada so Expensive?
As we’ve already explained, chiles en nogada require a long process of cultivation and elaboration. All the people who participate in any phase of their production or preparation make a great effort to ensure everything tastes great. For this reason, you’ll find that chiles en nogada are costly. At the Fair in Calpan, a medium-sized chili costs around 6USD while a big one costs around 8USD, although in restaurants you’ll find them at approximately 15USD.
This tour is a must for foodies, so reserve a seat and take a bust to Calpan and try their delicious chiles en nogada. Yummie!