Chili Rellenos

Chili Rellenos, literally “stuffed chili”, is a fusion between Mexican and Spanish cooking. The origin is from Puebla, Mexico and the chili most commonly used for the dish is Poblano, derived from the city’s name. Other peppers that are now used are Anaheim, pasilla, and jalapeno. It can basically be described as a Spanish “hot pocket” filled with cheese, pork and beef, or fresh chicken.

In 1858 it was described as “a green chili stuffed with minced meat and coated with egg.” Today it can be coated or not with egg and masa (corn meal), and stuffed with cheese, usually queso Chihuahua or queso Oxaca. If those are hard to find in your area, other cheeses that melt easily can be used. The meat stuffing is picadillo meat made of diced pork, raisons and nuts, and seasoned with canella (a cinnamon equivalent.)

Chili Rellenos is served throughout the world and has many variations. “In Guatemala, the pimento pepper is stuffed with shredded pork and vegetables. Like the Mexican version, it is covered with egg batter and fried. It is served with tomato sauce or inside a braised bun.” Wikipedia

Legend has it that nuns in Puebla of the Augustinian convent of Santa Monica first made Chili en Nogada (Nogal meaning walnut tree in Spanish.) They made it for Augustin de Iturbide in 1821 after he defeated the Spanish army and gained Mexico’s independence from Spain. (Later Augustin de Iturbide was to become the emperor of Mexico from the years 1822 to 1823.) The dish became one of Mexico’s most patriotic dishes because of its color palette. Green was the parsley, white the walnut sauce, and red for the pomegranate seeds. The Chili en Nogada is beautiful to look at, and August 28th is celebrated with this dish for St. Augustine’s Day.

Ingredients

Picadillo:

1/2 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup finely diced potatoes

1 cup peas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound ground beef or minced port

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh Mexican oregano leaves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 to 1 cup tomato paste

2 chipotles in adobo sauce (optional)

3 to 6 tablespoons golden raisins

3 tablespoons pinon nuts, toasted

1/2 cup pimentos

1/2 to 1 cup crumbled queso blanco

8 large poblanos

Vegetable oil, for frying

Flour, for dredging

4 eggs, separated

Tomato Ranchero Sauce, recipe follows

Tomato Ranchero Sauce:

28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1/2 onion, roughly chopped

1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

Cumin seeds, toasted and crushed

1 garlic clove

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup chicken broth

Salt

Dash hot red pepper sauce

Directions

  1. To prepare Picadillo: In a large skillet, saute the onion, garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add potatoes and peas. Add the beef, and continue to cook until the beef is no longer pink; breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in oregano, and cinnamon. Pour out any excess fat and stir in the tomato paste until thoroughly incorporated. Add chipotles, raisins, pinon nuts, and pimentos; salt to taste. Remove from heat. When mixture is cool, add cheese and mix well.
  2. Char the flesh of the peppers over a gas flame, under a broiler or on a grill. Alternatively, set a rack over an electric burner. Cook, turning frequently, until the skins are blistered all over. Take care not to overcook and burn right through the pepper. Put peppers in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sweat for about 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Rub off as much skin as possible and cut a slit along the side of each pepper, keeping the stems and tip intact. Carefully remove the seeds and inner membranes, but do not rinse with water.
  3. Heat 1-inch of oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat until very hot. Place flour in a shallow platter and season with salt and pepper. Beat egg whites until foamy, add a pinch of salt, and whip to stiff peaks. Lightly beat the egg yolks and fold into the whites. Stuff the chiles with picadillo, leaving enough room to close the opening. Overlap the seam slightly and gently squeeze closed. Pat the peppers dry and lightly coat in the seasoned flour. Pick the chile up by its stem and dip into the egg batter, making sure they are well covered, tap off excess. Fry until evenly browned, about 3 minutes each side. The egg burns easily so take care not to cook too long. Drain on paper towels. To serve, ladle a pool of Tomato Ranchero sauce on plates and set chiles rellenos on top, serve immediately.

Tomato Ranchero Sauce:

  1. Combine and puree the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, cumin, and garlic in a food processor.
  2. Heat the oil in a saucepan or skillet and fry the tomato puree over high flame. Add broth, and salt. Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly and is heated through. Serve hot and enjoy.

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