The owner of Chavez on Capitol Hill sticks to family tradition for this Mexican poblano-pepper dish.

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WHEN CHEF GABRIEL CHAVEZ opened his Capitol Hill restaurant, Chavez, two years ago, his goal was to serve unforgettable flavors from his childhood in Durango, Mexico: pungent peppers, corn tortillas, crispy gorditas, slow-cooked meats, smoky chipotle.

He and his three siblings learned to cook from their mother, Maria Veronica Arreola. Chavez recalls that she always put fresh meals on the table and never bought food on the street. “She’s a very patient woman,” Chavez says.

The family moved to Seattle in 1999. Chavez and his mother both worked at the original Boat Street Cafe, then he went on to Serafina and Cantinetta. Arreola had always hoped her son would have a place of his own.

The Chavez restaurant recipes are family history — full of memories and tradition. For her part, Arreola learned to cook at age 6 from her grandmother. Today, she often accompanies Chavez in the kitchen, making sure he prepares the dishes correctly.

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“Sometimes I have to kick her out because she’s very strict,” Chavez says, laughing.

One of the signature dishes is Chiles en Nogada, roasted poblanos stuffed with meat and covered in creamy walnut sauce. This patriotic dish, originally from Puebla, incorporates green, white and red from the Mexican flag. It’s typically served on Independence Day.

At home in Durango, Arreola would make the dish whenever she felt like it (poblano is her favorite pepper). According to Chavez, his mother had a reputation for making the best Chiles en Nogada.

“This dish tastes like the holidays to me,” Chavez says. “It’s sweet and savory, and has a lot of flavor.” Although there are different versions, Chavez follows his mother’s family method. “If I don’t, I’ll get in trouble.”

 

Chiles en Nogada

Serves 4

 

Chiles and stuffing:

4 fresh poblano chiles (in good condition, no bruises)

3 tablespoons olive or canola oil

½ pound ground pork

½ pound leanest ground beef

¼ yellow onion, minced

1 garlic clove, pressed

3 tablespoons raisins

3 tablespoons walnuts, minced

3 tablespoons pine nuts

1 pear, peeled, cored and minced

1 apple, peeled, cored and minced

2 ounces acitron, candied biznaga cactus, minced (available at some Mexican markets; 1 tablespoon minced candied pineapple may be substituted)

½ cup pitted Spanish olives, minced

Splash of white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Walnut sauce:

½ cup good-quality walnut halves

½ cup whole milk

4 tablespoons cream cheese

¼ cup whipping cream

Splash of sherry (preferably sweet)

Salt and pepper

 

Garnish:

Pomegranate seeds

Cilantro or parsley sprigs

 

1. Roast peppers over a grill or open flame, turning often, until uniformly blistered and blackened but not too soft. Place them in a plastic bag to sweat and cool.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet, and saute pork, beef, onion and garlic over medium heat. When meat is cooked through, add all other ingredients and cook another 5 minutes. Set aside.

3. For the sauce, blanch walnuts in hot water for about a minute. Drain. Place walnuts in a blender with milk. Puree until very smooth. Add cream cheese and cream, and blend until smooth. Add sherry, salt and pepper to taste.

4. Prepare the chiles by removing the skins with a paring knife. Cut each pepper lengthwise on just one side, carefully removing seeds and veins.

5. On a plate or platter, gently open each chile, forming an open pocket on top. Reheat meat mixture, and divide it evenly between the 4 chiles, filling the pockets. Pour sauce over the chiles. (You likely will have sauce left over.) Garnish with pomegranate seeds and cilantro or parsley. Serve immediately.

Gabriel Chavez