Americans love to use other cultures' holidays as an excuse to eat and drink. We celebrate Cinco de Mayo like no other, prancing around and proclaiming it the day that Mexicans gained independence. But what do tequila-tipsy Yankees know anyway?
Mexican Independence Day is actually September 16, which is why Talavera Cocina Mexicana in Coral Gables is offering a celebratory menu through the end of the month. It features a starter of papadzules (mini chicken enchiladas with pumpkin seed sauce and pico de gallo) as well as moreliana cheesecake for dessert -- but most importantly, on the menu is chiles en nogada, a traditional dish that we'll explain in detail after the jump.
Short Order spoke to Talavera's executive chef, Oscar del Rivero, who is a native of Mexico City, about the custom of eating chiles en nogada and the other elements necessary for the best Mexican Independence Day celebration possible.
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Chiles en nogada is a stuffed poblano pepper dish invented by nuns in the Mexican city of Puebla to commemorate Mexican Independence Day. The colors of the dish -- red, white, and green -- represent those of the Mexican flag. "People have been enjoying this dish for over 200 years. It is always special to offer chiles en nogada to our guests at Talavera," Del Rivero told Short Order.
Chiles en nogada starts with a stuffing made of pork, fruit, and a combination of nuts, which Del Rivero says creates a delicious balance of sweet and savory. "This is served inside the poblano pepper, which has an earthy and slightly spicy flavor," he said.
Served over the stuffed peppers (the green) is a creamy walnut sauce (the white), with walnuts, almonds, queso fresco and cinnamon. There's also a touch of sherry in the sauce for a hint of sweetness.
Finally, the peppers are topped with pomegranate seeds (the red). It sounds like an unusual combo all together, but Del Rivero assured us it works. "These impart a combination of sweet and sour flavors. Chiles en nogada is a masterpiece with a great combination of flavors and textures that complement one another," he said.
Del Rivero has fond memories of learning to prepare chiles en nogada. He has always loved discussing the unique dish with fellow chef Guillermo "Memo" Gongora, for example.
"We have been friends since middle school, for over 25 years now, and he studied and cooked alongside some of the best chefs in Mexico," Del Rivero said. "We are always discussing techniques, ingredients, and the history behind Mexican classics like this one."
Independently, Del Rivero will often try out different renditions of the recipe and perfect his own. "I have really enjoyed sharing it with Miami diners over the years. Between Talavera and our sister restaurant, Jaguar Ceviche, we have been offering it for eight years now."
Besides chiles en nogada, other traditional Mexican favorites that Del Rivero suggests Independence Day celebrants enjoy include mole poblano, fresh guacamole, and appetizers like sopes and tlacoyos. And don't forget the last essential item: "Tequila is a must, of course."
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Live entertainment will be hosted at Talavera during dinner service on Sunday. And at 11 p.m., you can join Del Rivero at the restaurant for El Grito, a traditional ceremony honoring Mexico's heroes.
"This grito, or scream, means watching the president of Mexico shout 'Viva Mexico!' on the Zócalo, a main plaza in the heart of Mexico City, or of course, on television," Del Rivero said. "Wherever you are, one thing is for sure: When the president yells 'Viva Mexico!', expect everyone to yell back, 'Viva!'"