Chile peppers are featured prominently on the menu at Xochitl (
), the new Mexican restaurant on Head House Square.
As executive chef and partner, Dionicio Jimenez includes a variety of the hot fruits on his menu: guajillo pepper sauce with the sesame-crusted chicken breast; pasilla pepper sauce to complement the filet Azteca; jalapeños in salads; and manzano peppers flanking braised pork shank.
But it is the Chiles en Nogada, the stuffed poblano peppers, that not only highlight the hometown menu of this Puebla native, but also are likely to star with home cooks at Cinco de Mayo parties this weekend. The dish is Puebla's most popular and best known, one that is both authentic and traditional yet familiar in style and easily prepared in American kitchens.
(The Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory over the French in the 1862 Battle of Puebla.)
The large poblanos are ideal for stuffing, and the filling of ground beef accented with bits of dried fruit provides a slightly sweet contrast that works well with the mildly hot pepper. (The recipe follows.)
The chile is topped with a sauce combining ground walnuts and crema (the Mexican version of creme fraiche) and garnished with jewellike pomegranate seeds.
While most poblanos have just a hint of heat, servers at Xochitl are quick to alert diners that (1) this dish is served at room temperature, and (2) the poblano chili used could come from the kitchen mild or hot, the luck of the draw. No guarantees.
"You can never be totally sure with poblanos," said Jimenez, who believes that the poblanos grown in Mexico are a bit sweeter than those nurtured in California soil. It has been his experience, too, he says, that poblanos of a deeper, darker color tend to be hotter.
His insights on picking poblanos may be helpful, but even so he concedes the heat level will vary. (For a guide to and descriptions of popular chiles, see the listing at left.)