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Chilis Rellenos

Mexican-style stuffed peppers are a good bit of trouble to make, but they are a fun project for a hot Saturday in August, when there's not much to do but swim and cook.

A note about the peppers: you can't make this with bells. You could substitute Anaheims or New Mexico chilis such as the delicious Hatch peppers we see in late summer. But the shape, heat and taste of a nice big poblano (a.k.a. Ancho) pepper is perfect if you can find it.

Chili Plate

4-6 large poblano chilis
red onion, finely chopped
summer squash, finely chopped
corn (1 ear shucked)
1 lb. ground beef or pork
6 oz. Monterrey Jack cheese (shredded)
crushed red and black pepper, cumin, salt
coarse whole ground yellow cornmeal

First roast the peppers as follows: wash and dry them. Pour a few drops of olive oil in your palms, rub yours hands together and then rub down all the peppers so they have a thin shiny film of oil all over. Roast them on a grill for 5-8 minutes, turning several times. What you want is for the skin to puff out from the flesh. Do not overcook. Move on as soon as the skin has separated. Put them in a bowl and cover with a towel to slow down the loss of steam as they cool.

Chili poblanoWhile the peppers are cooling, make the stuffing. Cook the vegetables and beef together with a little olive oil. The beef should be done. Remove from the heat and thoroughly mix in the shredded cheese.

While the stuffing cools, carefully peel the peppers. Hopefully, the skin slides right off. It takes some practice to get the roasting just right. You might want to make roasted peppers by itself (a delicious side dish) a few times to get the knack. However, even if your peppers turn out a bit ragged, you can continue with the stuffing project. It will work.

Now cut a slit in one side of each pepper (or use an existing split). Holding the pepper with the slit facing down, reach in to carefully loosen and remove the core of seeds and membrane. Don't worry about getting out all the seeds and don't rinse the pepper with water. Just gently scoop out most of the core.

Chili poblanoNow you can stuff the peppers. Hold them shut and gently roll them in flour that has salt and pepper mixed in it. If your peppers are falling apart (mine were the first time or two), persevere: wrap the pepper around the stuffing as best you can, flour it, and mold it into a little pepper shape. If you have enough cheese in the stuffing, it will hold together. In any case, put the stuffed and floured peppers in the refrigerator to chill. Both the flour and the cheese will set up nicely.

Some people recommend that you stitch the pepper together with a toothpick. I don't find this is necessary if you use cheese in the stuffing and chill the peppers before the final cooking stage. If you do use toothpicks, I recommend that you make a point of using exactly one toothpick per pepper. That way, you can retrieve exactly one toothpick from each pepper before serving, and no one will bite down on or (heaven forbid) swallow a toothpick.

Dip the floured stuffed peppers in a mixture of egg and water and roll them in yellow cornmeal. Chill again briefly. You should now have quite a firm little chili relleno to fry, even if you had trouble with the pepper in the beginning. With a little practice, you'll be making handsome whole peppers with stems.

Chili poblano


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