For many people, vegetarian entrees don’t seem to impress because they apparently lack the big flavors and protein punch associated with meat. These dishes are too feeble and dainty to satisfy their hunger. It’s hard for them to imagine that vegetarianism can possibly be a way of life.
Yet they are wrong, the vegetarian option is one that is embraced by millions around the globe. Some chose it because of predictated religious and cultural traditions, while others are simply seeking a new lifestyle. Whatever one’s motivation may be, one thing is for sure, when made by the right hands, vegetarian food is just as delicious and worthy of the same standing as meaty meals. I wasn’t raised a vegetarian, but my family usually only eats meat once or twice a week, so yes, I grew up around vegetables, I loved them, still love them, and always will love them. What’s more, I feel that when do you eat so many vegetables, you learn how to treat them, and I believe that I have quite a few tricks up my sleeve to make a mean vegetarian dinner any day of the week. However, that doesn’t mean that I have stopped looking for new techniques to add to repertoire. Trying and developing new recipes is something that I live for, and whenever I strike gold in veggie land, it reminds me that with a little effort and creativity, magic can be created with any bunch of ingredients.
Chiles Rellenos are standard Mexican restaurant fare consisting of roasted poblano peppers that are stuffed with cheese, coated in batter, fried, and then broiled in the oven with a red sauce and more cheese. They’re a little sinful, heavy, and something which leaves your stomach feeling stuffed beyond belief from the meal. Upon browsing through a recent issue of Food and Wine, I came across a version that seemed just as filling, but healthier, fresher, and far more flavor-packed than the original. Instead of a flat, monotone cheese filling, various notes are hit when these poblano peppers are stuffed with a diverse mixture of red peppers, zucchini, chayote squash, cactus, hominy, peas, dried apricots, raisins, cilantro, and oregano. Cactus paddles, an ingredient common in Mexican cooking, have a slight sour taste, but their slimy texture helps to bind the vegetable mixture together. Fresh oregano leaves, far more robust than the dried variety, add a powerful yet pleasant perfume to the entire dish.
Walnut sauce, better known as salsa nogada is a traditional sauce used to dress poblano peppers in Mexico. Who would have known that peppers and nuts work so well together? Wildly nutty, this sauce is blended up until silky, but it still remains substantial enough to remind you of the protein blast its providing to the meal. In the end, this dish ends up wonderfully complete. You won’t be missing meat on the night you have this.
Adapted Slightly from Food and Wine
- 12 large poblano peppers
- 1 large or 2 medium cactus paddle(s), optional
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into a 1/2 inch dice
- 1 large zucchini, cut into a 1/2 inch dice
- 1 chayote squash, halved lengthwise, pitted, and then cut into a 1/2 inch dice
- 1 14oz can hominy, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water until plump and then drained
- 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots, soaked in warm water until plump and then drained
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup grated Chihuahua cheese
- 2 cups walnuts
- 2 cups milk
- 1 slice sandwich bread, cut into cubes
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
First make the walnut sauce: Heat the milk in a pot over the stove until it is simmering. Then remove the pot from the heat, add the walnuts, and cover. Allow the walnuts to steep in the milk for about 45 minutes, until softened. Transfer the walnut and milk mixture to a blender and add the sherry vinegar and bread cubes. Blend the sauce until smooth and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Then proceed to making the chile rellenos: Roast the poblanos over a gas flame or under the broiler until charred on all sides. Transfer the poblanos to a plastic bag or box and allow to sweat for about 15-20 minutes. This will allow you to peel off the skins easier. Once they have been peeled, cut a slit in one side of the chili and remove the seeds, keeping the stems intact.
Now move onto preparing the filling: First clean the cactus paddles by scraping off the spines with a knife. Then grill the cactus paddles on a grill pan over medium-high heat, turning once, until lightly charred and softened, about 4 minutes. Allow the cactus paddles to cool before chopping into a 1/2 inch dice. Then preheat a large skillet with some oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the red pepper, zucchini, and chayote squash. Season with salt and pepper and then cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally until softened and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Then add the cactus, hominy, peas, apricots, raisins, cilantro, and oregano to the skillet. Season again with salt and pepper and heat the mixture until warmed through, about 4 more minutes. Then turn off the heat and allow the vegetable filling to cool slightly.
It’s now time to fill the chilies: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Stuff each of the poblanos with the filling and then press them closed. Top the peppers with the walnut sauce and cheese. Bake for about 10 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Serve hot.
- Cactus paddles and chayote squash can be found at Mexican markets and most fresh produce markets. If you can’t find chayote squash you can substitute with yellow squash. Cactus paddles are optional in this recipe so if you can’t find them, don’t worry about it!
- Hominy is also known as maize blanco, and it can be found canned in the Mexican aisle of most grocery stores.
- Chihuahua Cheese is a mildly flavored Mexican cheese that melts beautifully, hence making it highly suitable for baked dishes such as this one. If it’s not available in your area, you can substitute this cheese with Monterrey Jack cheese.