Tonight's Featured Taco: Chiles En Nogada

dried ancho chili stuffed with caramelized onions, tomatoes, panella cheese, topped with walnut mousse, candied walnuts and pomegranate seeds.

This week’s Chef Inspired Taco plays on the evolution of a classic Mexican dish, Chiles en Nogada. This classic stuffed chile is the second of two infamous Chile Relleno dishes. Although, there is an endless array of Chile Relleno recipes, seeing as the name literally means “stuffed pepper”, the two well known throughout Mexico are the classic cheese and pork stuffed poblano peppers with a fresh tomato sauce, which originated in the Mexican state of Puebla. The second is the playful and tasty combination of sweet, savory, and spicy. The second, Chiles en Nogada, is the classic dish chef has been inspired to recreate and highlight in an ECB taco.

Chiles en Nogada classically highlights the balance of sweet, spicy, and savory. These elements are brought to the plate by a few classic ingredients from the Mexican pantry. The first of these being the necessary and all important flavor profile of a pepper. Throughout Mexico, the use of peppers is without a doubt, a crucial identifying element of the Mexican pantry. With such a vast array of peppers being so readily available, this provides for a vast array of Chile Relleno dishes. The use of dried peppers opens up a wide variety and depth of flavors that lend themselves to a variety of pleasant taste and textural experiences compared to the fresh poblanos or anaheims. For this reason, chef has decided to highlight all of the wonderful flavors of the ancho chile, which is the ripe and dried version of the poblano pepper.

The second element of this classic dish is the filling. Whether the filling be cheese, meat, vegetables, or a combination of all three. When contemplating the filling, chef found himself thinking about the smoky depth of the ancho pepper and wanted the filling to compliment the pepper. Chef decided to focus on the pairing of spice with sweet. There are plenty of sweet elements at chef’s fingertips, however, there was only one that felt completely fitting, the plantain! The plantain is a fruit that is common in the pantry of those countries that have a climate naturally suited to their production. The plantain has varying degrees of ripeness, and for each degree, there is a different flavor and textural component brought out in the fruit itself. For this variation, chef wanted to develop all of the deep flavor elements of a “black ripe” plantain. When one allows a plantain to get to the “black ripe” stage, all of the starches naturally present in the plantain have developed into sugars, allowing for a very deep and rich sweetness that cannot be rivalled when compared to its cousin, the banana. The roasting of plantains at this stage only deepen these flavors as all of the sugars begin to caramelize. The rich caramel flavors of the plantain is complimented with the addition of pilloncillo, or the raw and unrefined sugar that is common in Mexico. Pilloncillo not only adds sweetness, but also a complex layer of deep rich molasses like qualities. Pair this sweetness with the depth and spice of the ancho pepper and the subtle saltiness and soft texture of panela cheese and you will have all the flavor elements highlighted in harmony, like a church choir building to a joyous crescendo.

The third and ever so important element, the sauce. The classic chile relleno from Puebla is a fresh tomato sauce that is light and delicate, but highlights the brightness of a fresh pepper. The counterpart to the fresh tomato sauce, would be the classic sauce for chiles en nogada, a sweetened walnut cream sauce. Chef has taken this element and created a fresh whipped cream with the flavor backbone of fire roasted walnuts. This cream sauce would not be complete without the added textural and flavoring components of crushed candied walnuts and the sweet acidity of fresh pomegranate seeds.