I love making dishes with unusual flavour combinations, so when I read about Chiles on Nogada, a Mexican dish from Pueblo, my interest was piqued…. stuffed poblano peppers featuring lots of fruits and spices, bathed in a walnut sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds? Wow!
Supposedly the recipe was developed by nuns, who peeled and ground the walnuts for days, awaiting the arrival of Agustín de Iturbide! It’s served nowadays in Mexico when the pomegranates are in season, and often to celebrate Diez y Seis de Septiembr (Mexico’s Independence Day).
The colours of the Mexican flag influence the use of pomegranate seeds to bejewel the traditional dish, and I really wanted to use these in a savoury dish that wasn’t a salad, they’re just so beautiful! I didn’t fancy days of grinding walnuts by hand, and I certainly wouldn’t be using any non-vegan ingredients, but I wanted a beautiful dinner plate with these colours and felt inspired…
I’ve used a simple brown lentil base for the stuffing, it makes for a rich filling which takes on the smoky, spicy flavours well and complements the fruit. I’ve thrown a few prickly pears in there because my grocers (Bristol’s famous Sweet Mart) had them in stock and they’re a fruit popular during late summer in Mexico too!
Autumn-Spiced Stuffed Peppers with Walnut Sauce + Pomegranates
Serves 6 (with rice on the side) or 3 if you want two peppers each.
6 long sweet peppers (poblanos are not so easy to find!)
4 tsp vinegar ( I used apple cider)
2 tsp sea salt
Seeds of one pomegranate (this human shows you how)
Handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
For the filling
300g brown lentils
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced small
1 pear, cored and diced small (use two if not using prickly pears)
Optional 3 prickly pears (prepare them thoroughly, you don’t want rogue seeds like I got one time, they’re real gritty! Oh and the name tells you what you need to know about handling the fruit itself right?!)
2 large tomatoes, deseeded and diced small
2.5 tsp medium chilli powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
Season well with sea salt and black pepper
3 tsp liquid smoke (easy to get online and a great store cupboard ingredient to have)
1 crumbled vegan stock cube or tsp stock powder
3 tbsp almond butter
For the walnut sauce
200g walnuts (we’ll prepare and use them as per steps 1 and 6 , or y’know, take two days off work to peel and grind them by hand)
100g cashew nuts
450ml unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp nutritional yeast (these places in Bristol stock it, or buy online)
1 tsp salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon and black pepper
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
- Place the walnuts in a large bowl and cover with boiling water, you’re going to let these rest for 10 minutes to get rid of most the skins.
- Put the lentils on to cook in a large pan on medium heat for 35 minutes (good advice here, though we’ll cook them a little longer).
- Heat the grill to high for de-skinning the peppers. Line a baking tray with foil and place the peppers on top. Grill for around 8 minutes on side until the skin is blackened and then flip to do the same to the other side of the pepper. You can do this with a gas flame too.
- Drain the walnuts by shaking in a sieve. This gets off enough of the skin for a white sauce, though you can be more thorough if you’re feeling zen.
- Fill the walnut bowl with cold water and the vinegar and sea salt and dunk the peppers in. I leave them for 10 minutes before peeling off the skins and draining on kitchen towel. They get loads of flavour this way too.
- In the meantime make the sauce by blending all the ingredients in a blender until a smooth sauce consistency and reserve in a small pan (unheated) on the hob ready to warm.
- When the peppers are draining, the sauce is made and the lentils are cooked and drained you can finish the filling. I start by doing all the deseeding and chopping of the fruits and pop to one side while the olive oil is heating in a tall-sided frying pan.
- Add the chopped onions to the hot pan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic, spices , seasoning and fruits cooking for a further 10 minutes, again stirring to prevent sticking.
- Put the lentils into the fruit mixture along with the liquid smoke and almond butter (this will melt in nicely) and cook for a further 15 minutes until everything is soft and well flavoured (you gotta try it here to check!)
- If you’re serving the dish with rice now is a good time to put that on. I season mine with salt, pepper, smoked paprika and lemon juice in case you’re wondering.
- The peeled peppers usually split down the middle and this allows you to easily stuff the peppers with a sixth of the filling each. Pop them in a casserole dish whilst stuffing them so you can easily reheat.
- Preheat the oven to 200C and when you’re ready to serve the meal cook the peppers for 10 minutes on the middle shelf.
- During this time heat the sauce you’ve got ready in a pan, stirring often, and prepare the pomegranate and parsley garnish.
- Once the peppers are cooked, plate and pour on the walnut sauce liberally, with lots of pretty pomegranate seeds and parsley on top.