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Chiles in Walnut Sauce: Mexican History in Each Bite

First Chilli in Walnut Sauce fair in San Pedro Cholula. Photo taken from the Flickr account of <a href="https://www.flickr.com

First Hot Peppers in Walnut Sauce fair in San Pedro Cholula. Photo taken from the Flickr account of Arturo Alfaro Galan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hot peppers in walnut sauce is the signature dish in Central Eastern Mexico and one of the most popular meals in the national cuisine. The dish is also a blend of the colours of the Mexican flag: green, red, and white. In this text, we are going to gather some expressions related to the dish's origin and, of course, to its ingredients concerning Mexico's national celebrations.

To continue exploring Mexican cooking (in the past we wrote about tacos de canasta or basket tacos and tacos al pastor), we now turn to hot peppers in walnut sauce, which are nothing more than peppers stuffed with meat, drenched in a special walnut sauce, and adorned with fruit. It sounds simple but the preparation is far more involved, and the meal has its origins in the country's War of Independence.

September is a special month in Mexico. This is because September 16 marks the beginning of the war of independence against Spain. On September 21 (although it is rarely celebrated), the Army of the Three Guarantees arrived in what is known today as Mexico City. The achievement of independence led Agustín de Iturbide, one of the city's architects, to proclaim himself emperor within a short time.

Tania Jardón of the University del Claustro de Sor Juana explains the beginnings of how Mexicans started eating hot peppers in walnut sauce:

Existen diversas versiones sobre el origen de este platillo típico de las Fiestas Patrias. La más popular dice que este platillo fue inventado por las monjas agustinas del Convento de Santa Mónica en Puebla, para celebrar tanto la reciente Independencia de México, como el santo del nuevo emperador, Agustín de Iturbide. Aprovechando los productos de temporada como la granada y la nuez de Castilla, las monjas agustinas prepararon un plato que llevara los colores del ejército trigarante: verde, blanco y rojo.

There exist various versions about the origins of this dish, which is typical of the Independence Day celebrations. The most popular version says that this dish was invented by the Augustinian nuns of the Santa Monica Convent in Puebla to celebrate the recent Mexican Independence as well as the saint of the new emperor, Agustín de Iturbide. Taking advantage of seasonal products such as pomegranates and walnuts, the nuns prepared a dish that bore the colours of the Army of the Three Guarantees: green, white, and red.

The same author shares this other version:

Otra versión, y más romántica que la anterior, está descrita por el famoso escritor Artemio de Valle-Arizpe. De Valle-Arizpe, relata que en el ejército trigarante existían tres soldados cuyas novias vivían en Puebla. Emocionadas por la Independencia y por tener de vuelta a sus enamorados, decidieron crear un platillo para engalanarlos. Cada una eligió un ingrediente que representara el color del ejército y encomendadas a la Virgen del Rosario y a San Pascual Bailón, se dispusieron a cocinar.

Another version, more romantic than the previous one and described by the famous writer Artemio de Valle-Arizpe,relates that there were three soldiers in the Army of the Three Guarantees whose fiancées lived in Puebla. Excited by the independence and the return of their lovers, they decided to create a dish to adorn them with. Each one chose an ingredient that represented the colour of the army and was entrusted to the Virgin of the Rosary and San Pascual Bailón. Then they set out to cook.

Writing for the website of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education,Briss Carrizo confirms these historical origins:

La receta original data del año 1714, pero no fue hasta el año 1821, cuando los insurgentes ganaron la guerra de la Independencia de México, que el chile relleno bañado en salsa de nuez se acompañó por primera vez con adornos en verde con el perejil y rojo con la granada, haciendo alusión a la nueva bandera tricolor que habían adoptado los insurgentes.

A partir de dicho año, los responsables de preparar los chiles en nogada -que en ese entonces se degustaban como postre- comenzaron a experimentar con nuevos ingredientes que actualmente se producen en más de 25 municipios del estado de Puebla como manzana, plátano, durazno, pera y nuez de castilla.

The original recipe dates from 1714 but it was not until 1821, when the insurgents won the war of Mexican Independence, that hot peppers stuffed and drenched in walnut sauce, was accompanied for the first time with green adornments made from parsley and red ones from pomegranate alluding to the new tricolour flag that the insurgents had adopted.

From that year on, the people in charge of preparing the hot peppers in walnut sauce, which from then on was savoured as a dessert, began to experiment with new ingredients such as apples, bananas, peaches, pears, and walnuts that are currently produced in more than 25 municipalities in the state of Puebla.

The website ChilesEnNogada.com mentions other ingredients that were used in the preparation of the dish:

Almendra, piñón, acitrón (biznaga), durazno, pera, manzana y plátano macho; eran los ingredientes con los que se preparaba este manjar que probablemente se comía como postre. Es así como la gastronomía poblana se enriqueció, obteniendo uno de los platillos más representativos.

Almonds, pine seeds, candied peaches (bishop's weed), pears, apples, and plantains; these were the ingredients with which this delicacy that was probably eaten as a dessert was prepared. This is how Pueblan gastronomy was enriched, obtaining one of the most represented dishes in the process.

Today, hot peppers in walnut sauce is served as a main course (not as a dessert) in restaurants all over Mexico—especially in centre of the country in August and September. Although its preparation is laborious and slow, it is served not only in places dedicated to luxury and high cuisine, but on medium-budget tables, as well.

On Twitter, people are fond of sharing how much they enjoy the dish:

Hoy fue un día hermoso porque comí chiles en nogada y vi a mis amigos y caminé de la mano de mi novio y me tomé mis copitas y me dormí 👌🏼— sof (@SofTellez) August 30, 2015

Today was a beautiful day because I ate hot peppers in walnut sauce, saw my friends, walked hand in hand with my boyfriend, had some drinks and fell asleep.

Abby Carrillo sent the following question:

I had never tried hot peppers in walnut sauce in my life. Does trying them make me an official Chilanga [slang for a resident of Mexico city]?

Fernanda Centeno shared the following image of this traditional dish:

In @Grafocafe we are already preparing hot peppers in walnut sauce. pic.twitter.com/KM5NBMJWRo

The site Chilango.com took on the task of checking out several places where this delight is served:

We went to look for best hot peppers in walnut sauce in Mexico city and found them! http://t.co/8CFmNJWG8l pic.twitter.com/pZf5Ina9vN

The exotic combination of flavours that hot peppers in walnut sauce is just one of the joys available to Mexicans (and their guests, of course) during the national celebrations in September.

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