We tend to get caught up in the same old culinary traditions come Christmas, but instead of preparing that tried-and-true ham (or turkey, or goose, or lasagna or what have you), why not take a page from Mexico, by adding one of their most festive dishes to your holiday table?
We’re talking about red, white and green Chiles en Nogada (the colors technically represent the Mexican flag, but certainly don’t hurt for Christmas either). Pork and fruit-stuffed poblanos are ladled with a creamy sauce of ground nuts and queso fresco, and sprinkled with juicy pomegranate seeds, but don’t let the extensive ingredient list and series of steps fool you — this is a dish that’s special enough to serve over the holiday, but easy enough to make all year round!
For the pork
1½ pounds of boneless pork shoulder
salt and pepper
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup of white onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 sprig of fresh thyme
For the filling
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 14.5-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes
1 sprig of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 stick of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of ground allspice
⅛ teaspoon of ground cloves
1 pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tablespoon of cider vinegar
1½ teaspoons of sugar
¾ teaspoon of salt
⅓ cup of dried apricots, coarsely chopped
¼ cup of raisins
¼ cup of pine nuts
⅓ cup of green apple, peeled and diced
½ cup of ripe plantain, peeled and diced
For the sauce
1½ cups of walnut halves
¾ cup of slivered almonds
1½ cups of milk
6 ounces of queso fresco
1 tablespoon of sugar
¼ teaspoon of salt
For the chiles
14 fresh poblano chiles
½ cup of pomegranate seeds
Chopped cilantro for garnish
For the pork: Heat the oil in a heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Generously coat the pork in salt and pepper, then brown on all sides in the skillet. Add onions and garlic to pot, cover, and roast in a 350º oven until a meat thermometer reads 145º, about 1 to 1½ hours. Remove pork to cutting board and let cool. Remove thyme sprig from pot, leaving in onions and garlic. When pork is cool, dice into ½” cubes.
For the filling: Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, vinegar, sugar, and salt to the pot with the onions and garlic. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have broken down and sauce is slightly thickened, 20 to 30 minutes. While tomatoes simmer, cut an X in bottom of peach, then immerse in boiling water until skin begins to loosen, 10 to 30 seconds. Transfer peach to a bowl of cold water to stop cooking, then peel, pit, and dice. Discard bay leaves, thyme sprig, and cinnamon stick from tomato mixture, then add diced pork and remaining filling ingredients and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until fruit is softened but still intact, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with additional salt, sugar, and vinegar.
For the sauce: Pureé walnuts and almonds in a blender with milk, cheese, sugar, and salt until smooth and silky, about 2 minutes (sauce should thickly coat back of a spoon). Season with salt and sugar to taste.
For the chiles: Grill or roast chiles over flame until blackened. Place in a covered bowl and cool. Carefully peel skin from peppers. Cut a lengthwise slit in each chile and carefully cut out seeds with kitchen shears, leaving stem intact.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350F. Divide pork filling among chiles, then close, overlapping sides of openings slightly. Transfer, seam sides up, to a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish, then cover with foil and bake until just heated through, about 15 to 25 minutes. Transfer chiles to plates, carefully turning them seam sides down. Pour about ⅓ cup of walnut sauce over each chile, then sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.