Anyone who’s been to Puebla in the fall must long for the flavors of Chiles en Nogada. After having what some call Mexico’s national dish for lunch at Los Agaves, I’m already wondering if it’s too soon to go back for seconds. Created in honor of Agustín de Iturbide, who was riding through Puebla after signing the Treaty of Córdoba in 1821 to formally liberate the country from Spain, it is traditionally served during the month of Mexico’s independence (declared on September 16, 1810). Like Puebla’s equally famous mole, the intricate dish was conceived by nuns, some say the Augustinians, others the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites. Chiles en Nogada is a complex and delicious work of kitchen mastery.
Presented in a cool blanket of crema — Mexican cream and goat cheese with the delicately sweet flavor of amaretto and a pleasingly nutty bite — a perfectly roasted, warm chile poblano is filled with a savory helping of pork, beef, piñon, peaches, and about 36 other ingredients. The amazingly complicated execution of bite and flavor rivals the pride and patriotism in the dish and its colors of the Mexican flag.
The version at the Agaves restaurants was developed by executive chef Ricardo Garcia, said chief operating officer Mike Casas, who mused that the sweet and mild spiciness reflected the bittersweet nature of the culture. (Iturbide, a military commander who was a national hero, to some, declared himself emperor but got the boot after about a year, Casas reflected.)
Los Agaves and Santo Mezcal, which opened last year at 119 State Street, will be serving up Chiles en Nogada as long as the pomegranates stay sweet. And, in case you’re wondering, Cinco de Mayo, which Yanquis believe is Mexican independence day, actually marks the victory of Mexico’s army over superior French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.