Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

In honor of Cinco de Mayo and my adoration for this marvelous book Like Water for Chocolate, I decided to recreate the stuffed poblano peppers that Tita, the main character, makes for a wedding near the end of the book. This wonderful novel, which features a collection of recipes from turn-of-the-century Mexico, is also a sweet and tender love story, and also details the history, secrets, lies and loves of the De La Garza family.

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I loved this book as much for the cooking and luscious food descriptions as for the familiar family problems outlined. The bossy, mean matriarch of the family, her three daughters who play the traditional roles – for awhile, anyway – and the absent father. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of my own family dynamic growing up, and though we didn’t grow up on a farm near the Texas/Mexico border and thankfully, none of us girls were expected to take care of our mother as she got old and sick, there was still a painful dynamic at work in our coming-of-age. To this day, my mother’s relationship with her daughters is, at best, complex.

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Back to the book. It’s a compendium of marvelous recipes such as quail with rose petal sauce, Christmas rolls stuffed with delicious ground meat, and a few other interesting variants. But for me, my ultimate, favorite recipe in this book (and my favorite food in Mexican cuisine) is the stuffed pepper. This particular recipe is called chiles en nogada. Here in my home state of New Mexico, stuffed peppers are called chiles rellenos, and different kinds of chile peppers can be used, which you stuff with cheese, then lightly coat in batter and fry. What’s nice about this particular recipe is that it doesn’t call for frying and you really can play around with the stuffing and flavors. Roasting and steaming the peppers and removing their skins is time-consuming, so this is one of those things you make with an entire afternoon to while away and want to really enjoy the creative process of cooking.

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Traditionally, this recipe uses only poblano chiles, but I wanted to honor my New Mexico heritage, so I threw a couple of Hatch green chiles into the mix, and made a few additional tweaks, which I will detail below. Serve with icy-cold Mexican beer or, my personal preference, a nice, sipping shot of good-quality tequila, or indeed, with a nice deep red wine. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

This is the method that worked for me.

INGREDIENTS

4 poblano chiles
2 Hatch green chiles
3/4 lb of ground beef, preferably 90% lean
1 cup of walnuts, toasted in a dry, hot pan

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Salt
Half a finely diced red onion
3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 cup blue cheese crumbles (my twist on flavoring)
1 cup Cotija cheese crumbles

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1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (use sparingly)
1 cup Mexican crema
1 cup pomegranate anils

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METHOD

Turn on the oven broiler. When super hot, rub olive oil on the six chile peppers, put them on a flat baking tray, and roast them about 10-15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes so the peppers blacken on all sides. Remove from the oven and seal in an airtight plastic bag, and cover with a warm, damp cloth. The steam will further cook the peppers and make the skins easier to peel (in theory.)

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While the peppers are roasting and cooling, cook the ground beef, seasoning with salt, a bit of black pepper and a bit of cinnamon. When cooked through, remove to a plate and cook the onions and the garlic with a bit more salt until soft and translucent. Add the cooked ground beef to the onions and stir to mix again. Let cool slightly, then add the blue cheese crumbles and the Cotija crumbles to the meat-onion mixture. Add a large tablespoon of the toasted walnuts to the mixture, and stir so that everything is well mixed.

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Take the cooked, skinned peppers and make a slit down the middle. Rub some oil, grapeseed or olive, onto your hands like you’re putting on hand lotion. This will keep the seeds from burning your hands as you remove the stem and seeds from the chiles. Rinse and let dry.

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Put the Mexican crema, half the toasted walnuts, the rest of the blue cheese, a spoonful of the Cotija cheese, salt, pepper and another small bit of cinnamon, into a blender and blend until you have a smooth, creamy sauce.

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Fill the roasted, peeled chiles with the meat-onion-walnut-cheese mixture. Cover with the velvety white cream sauce, and garnish with pomegranates and the rest of the toasted walnuts. They are truly delicious, very subtle flavoring from the cinnamon which lightly offsets the tangy cheese and heat of the chiles.

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Not to mention they are simply gorgeous to behold!

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“The chiles not only looked good, they were indeed delicious – never before had Tita done such a marvelous job with them. The platters of chiles proudly wore the colors of the flag: the green of the chiles, the white of the nut sauce, and the red of the pomegranates.”

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12 thoughts on “Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

  1. Thank you Vanessa, this is a great post. The thing I loved most about the book was the way magic was conjured up in the cooking process – causing all kinds of mischief, mainly involving flaming hot passions … I can just picture you in your kitchen smoothing oil into your hands for the peppers and creating waves all around you! I’d like to try your recipe but cheese crumbles and crema are things unknown to me … can I just use grated cheese and some kind of cream? It’s not always easy to get large chillies either but I’ll look out for them. I love any recipe that includes walnuts. And a nice cold beer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Helen! In traditional chiles en nogada, you can really use any type of cheese you’d like. If you would like to substitute, I’d suggest sour cream in place of the crema. As far as the blue cheese crumbles, I’d think you could use any type of blue cheese found where you are. I just got a container of crumbles because I’m lazy. Shredded cheese would likely be just fine. I must also be honest and say that most traditional chiles en nogada recipes have some type of dried fruit as part of the chile pepper stuffing. I chose to omit that, as I really dislike dried fruit in meat recipes. I say go for it and let me know how it turns out!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, I’ll give it a go – but possibly with beans instead of meat, if that isn’t too far away from the original to be meaningful. In which case I might reintroduce dried fruit … this is how recipes become unrecognisable I guess!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think that’s how we learn how to cook, and how recipes become our own. I also think that’s how we invent new recipe. I’d consider yours an homage to the original. You’re going to have to let me know how it comes out. Beans sound like they would be really good!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh this post is delightful and I can see Salsa dancing in my future after eating such pleasures you put on the plate… Will yet again give this wonderful dish a try and I’ll also be on the lookout for this book … Thank you for the suggestion to your post here Like water for Chocolate

    Hugs, from Laura

    Liked by 1 person

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