From our story The Last Walnut Grove
Recipe and photo by Devany Vickery-Davidson
I first learned how to make this signature Christmas holiday dish of Mexico’s Morelos region while attending a cooking school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. It serves a crowd and takes many hours to prepare, but it is well worth the effort. Several parts, such as the chiles and stuffing, can be made ahead: if they are stored separately, covered and refrigerated. Complete the sauce shortly before serving, since it will discolor if prepared too far ahead.
2 cups (7 ounces) walnut halves and pieces.
You’ll need 50 very fresh walnuts in their shells (about 1½ pounds). If using mature-green walnuts, allow 1½ to 2 hours to prepare. Break away the soft, green, outer layer with your hands. Working with 5 or 6 at a time, crack open the nuts, remove the meats in the largest pieces possible. Drop the walnut pieces into a small pan of boiling water, immediately remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel, then peel. The thin, brown skin that covers each piece will peel off in fairly large pieces if the nuts are very fresh; use a small pick or pointed trussing needle to help lift the skin out of the crevices. Continue until all are peeled. Store the nuts in a covered bowl of milk in the refrigerator.
16 very large (about 2 pounds) fresh poblano chiles (Choose good-looking chiles with their stems intact if possible.)
To roast chiles on an open flame: Place chiles directly over the gas flame or on a medium-hot charcoal or gas grill. Roast, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened on all sides but not soft, about 5 minutes.
To roast chiles with a broiler: Lay chiles on a baking sheet set about 4 inches below a preheated broiler. Roast, turning occasionally until blistered and blackened on all sides but not soft, about 10 minutes. Peel the charred skin off the chiles and rinse them if necessary. Make a long slit in the side of each chile and carefully remove the seeds and veins.
Note: Since the flavors in this dish are delicate, it is best to devein the chiles to insure they won’t be too hot. If you suspect that they are hot, soak them in salted water overnight.
Before you start cooking, complete all the initial peeling, coring and chopping of the stuffing ingredients. Sprinkle the fruit with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. (A little oxidizing of the apples and pears won’t spoil the appearance of the dish.)
3 tablespoons lard or oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 small white onion, diced
1½ pounds ground pork shoulder with 2 ounces of chopped ham (or equal parts of veal, beef, and pork with 2 ounces of chopped ham)
1 ripe, medium-small tomato, seeded and roughly chopped
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup raisins rehydrated in hot water and drained
2 generous tablespoons dried mango, candied biznaga cactus, or citron, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 small pear, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 small Jonathan or McIntosh apple, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch dice
2 medium fresh peaches (or extra pears or apples), peeled, pitted, and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or Mexican oregano
A pinch of saffron
A pinch of ground cloves
A pinch of ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried thyme
½ teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
Salt, about 1 generous teaspoon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
⅓ cup (about 1¾ ounces) silvered blanched almonds.
1 ripe, medium-size plantain, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
Heat the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are translucent. Add the meats and then the tomatoes. Add the chicken broth and cook until most of the broth has evaporated and the meat has become tender.
To the meat mixture, add the raisins, candied fruit, pear, apple, peach, herbs and cinnamon. Mix well, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet, and simmer until the apple and pear are tender (but not mushy) and the flavors are blended, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, usually a generous teaspoon.
While the meat mixture is simmering, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium-small skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and fry, stirring nearly constantly, until they are a deep golden color, about 3 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon and cool. Add the diced plantain to the skillet and stir it frequently until nicely browned and sweet, 3 or 4 minutes. Add to the meat mixture along with the almonds. Remove the filling from the heat and let cool uncovered. (There will be about 6 cups).
Stuff the chiles with cooled filling, packing it in well and re-forming them in their original shape. Place on a baking sheet and cover with foil.
2 cups (7 ounces) walnut halves and pieces, peeled (see advance preparation above)
1 to 1½ cups milk
1 slice firm white bread, crusts removed
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt, about ½ generous teaspoon
1 cup of dry brandy
¼ teaspoon cinnamon, preferable freshly ground Mexican canela
½ cup heavy (whipping) cream or Mexican crema or crema fresca
8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
Prepare the sauce a couple of hours before serving. Put the peeled walnuts into a blender jar along with 1 cup of milk (from soaking the walnuts), the bread, sugar, salt, brandy, and spices. Blend until a drop of the puree no longer feels gritty when rubbed between your fingers (this will be more successful with the mature-green walnuts); if the mixture should clog in the machine or if only the mixture at the bottom is moving through the blades, add more milk a little at a time, until all the mixture is moving through the blades again. Finally add the cream and blend for just a few seconds, adding additional milk as necessary to achieve a medium consistency. Taste for salt and sugar: The sauce should have a slightly sweet edge with just enough salt to bring up the flavor of the walnuts. Set aside at room temperature.
Half an hour before serving, place the chiles in a 250° oven to heat through. Break the pomegranate apart, pick out all the seeds, and place them in a small dish.
When you are ready to serve, add a little cream to the sauce if it is thicker than a medium-consistency custard sauce. Place 1 or 2 chiles (depending on how you have chosen to serve them) on each warm dinner plate. Spoon the room-temperature sauce over the warm chiles, generously covering them half away from the stem. Sprinkle the sauce generously with the pomegranate seeds, garnish with the parsley, and serve at once. Traditionally, they are served on a round plate with the chiles in a circle.