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One Of Mexico's Iconic Dishes Turns 200 Years Old

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain at the stroke of midnight tonight. And in addition to the country, the traditional dish eaten on Independence Day also celebrates a big birthday this year.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The seasonal delicacy called chile en nogada turns 200 years old. It's a complex dish - a roasted poblano peppers stuffed with meat, fruit and nuts - and it's packed with history, too.

KELLY: Yum.

Mexican chef and author Pati Jinich says the chile tells the tale of the country's complicated past.

PATI JINICH: Legend goes that it was a dish that was created, as many of the iconic dishes in Mexico, by nuns in convents to celebrate Agustin de Iturbide when he became the first-ever Mexican emperor. And they do really embrace the Spanish ingredients with the native Mexican ingredients in the way that they were intermarried during the 300 years of - that Mexico was a colony of Spain.

CHANG: The chile is distinctly Mexican, and it gets dressed up in patriotic colors - the green chile, the white walnut, or nogada, sauce and a drizzle of red pomegranate seeds round out the colors of the flag.

KELLY: Now, Jinich says, it is a lot of work to make this dish. She starts prepping some seven months before Independence Day, freezing the pomegranates when they're in season here in Washington, D.C., where she now lives.

JINICH: It uses the Mexican techniques in the roasting and charring and sweating of the chile and in the way there's a clash of combinations of flavors in it, you know, the way we Mexicans love it. There's super sweet. There's super spicy. There's super savory. But then it has the Old World ingredients brought from Spain - the olives, the capers, the almonds. And I mean, it's truly Mexican. But at the same time, it really embraces the history of Mexico as being, you know, the pre-Hispanic Mexico and then the colonial Mexico. And then it's a recipe that continues to be loved and passed on. And it's an heirloom of, you know, Mexican cuisine and culture.

CHANG: Another part of what makes this dish so special is where it comes from, says Jinich.

JINICH: Puebla is really one of the cradles of traditional Mexican cuisine. You know, many of the Mexican cooks that live in the U.S. also come from Puebla. In fact, I've heard New York being called Puebla York, which is a fun term.

KELLY: Jinich, who is Jewish, will observe a doubleheader tomorrow with Yom Kippur and Independence Day coming together.

CHANG: She said she hopes filling up with chiles en nogada before sunset tonight will give her energy for the midnight grito, or cheer of independence, and sustain her through tomorrow's fest. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.