Three Bites: Chiles en Nogada

Marilyn HawkesSeptember 22, 2021
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Photography by Angelina Aragon
Photography by Angelina Aragon

Roasty yet rich, traditional Mexican chiles en nogada fits your autumn dining needs like a turtleneck sweater.

Barrio Café

2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix
When chef Silvana Salcido Esparza built her first Barrio Café menu 20 years ago, she wanted to include chiles en nogada ($26, pictured), a traditional Pueblan fall dish of poblano peppers filled with chopped beef and dried summer fruits, draped in walnut sauce. Because Esparza doesn’t like walnuts, she put her own singular spin on the richly layered dish. Instead of beef, the classically trained chef stuffs the smoky roasted pepper with chunks of tender chicken – sautéed with onions, apples, dried apricots and cranberries, raisins and a splash of wine – and crafts her velvety cream reduction sauce with almonds rather than walnuts, giving it a smoother texture. After pouring the endorphin-inducing almond sauce over the charred stuffed pepper, she finishes with pomegranate seeds and a dash of cilantro. “This is Silvana’s version,” she says of the dish, now available whenever
pomegranates are.

Casa Corazon

2637 N. 16th St., Phoenix
It’s believed that chiles en nogada was invented by 18th-century nuns in Puebla, Mexico, to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, and in honor of Agustín de Iturbide, the future emperor of Mexico. Typically reserved for special occasions in Mexican homes, the dish has a permanent spot on Casa Corazon’s menu ($18). Chef Elena Ramirez prepares the celebratory dish with ground pork picadillo or robust shrimp and blankets the fire-roasted pepper with a snappy, sherry-infused walnut sauce. Tucking into the jam-packed pepper, you’ll find dried fruits, bits of apple, pears and prunes in the stuffing that lend a sweetness to the mix. The rich blonde sauce, tarted up with goat cheese, balances out the dish. When plated, chiles en nogada has all the colors of the Mexican flag – white sauce, green chile and ruby red pomegranate seeds.

La Santísima Gourmet Taco Shop

Two Valley locations
La Santísima has two locations – one in Glendale, one in Central Phoenix – and both serve chiles en nogada ($6.99) year-round, owner Felipe Guzman says. His recipe calls for roasting the peppers on a charcoal grill before removing the seeds and veins and stuffing them with spicy ground beef laced with pears, apples, raisins, prunes, apricots and a shot of chopped pecans and almonds. Made in-house, La Santísima’s tangy walnut sauce is brimming with goat, ricotta and Adobera cheeses, evaporated milk, sherry, Mexican cinnamon and a few “secrets of the house,” Guzman says. Many customers ask for a spicier version, but Guzman likes to bring it down a notch – spicy but “edible and enjoyable.” Guzman’s chiles en nogada became more popular after the Food Network’s Guy Fieri stopped by in 2018. “He loved it.”