Sunday, March 2, 2008

March 2: Casserole-Style Chiles Rellenos

I have collected a few very old-fashioned, very retro cookbooks, full of ingredients like unflavored Jello and cream of something soup. One is the Better Homes & Gardens Biggest Book of Casseroles. This cookbook is crammed full of things I wouldn't dream of making, unless someone discovered that either:

A. Sandra Lee and Rachel Ray are not, in fact, in some kind of job-share arrangement as the antichrist. (Unlikely.)
B. Preservatives have the effect of making people live longer. (Equally unlikely.)

However, there are a few adjustments that I make when something calls for a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup: a handful of mushrooms, chopped, a few tablespoons of minced onion and a clove garlic, crushed, all browned together in two tablespoons of butter with a pinch of salt and a little pepper. Two tablespoons of flour mixed in, and a cup of reduced-fat or whole milk and a half-cup of chicken or vegetable broth stirred in until it all comes together. Simmer until thickened. Cream of Mushroom soup, just like that.

This particular recipe doesn't call for a can of soup. It has poblano peppers in it, which I think are vastly improved by roasting and peeling, not blanching, and I've adjusted the recipe to reflect that. Also, feel free to replace the "purchased picante sauce" with whatever fresh salsa you have around.

I love chiles rellenos. One of my favorite things ever comes from a little Mexican restaurant in Michigan: a roasted poblano chile, stuffed with cheese and fried, then wrapped in a double layer of homemade corn tortillas. Food that's flavorful, luxurious, simple, and authentic, all in equal measure, is the heart of the reason that I like to write about food. It makes for such gorgeous reading.

I am not fooling myself into thinking that this recipe will be an authentic recreation of chiles rellenos, but I don't typically have the time to make them. It's fairly involved: roasting, steaming, peeling, seeding, stuffing, battering, and frying. I am hoping this will be a reasonably easy imitation of the real thing.

This is incredibly high in saturated fat, about 13 grams per serving. Consider it a treat, not a nightly side dish. I would make this with grilled, sliced chicken breasts and soft tortillas, and a big crunchy salad of romaine lettuce, sliced radishes, halved cherry tomatoes, and slivered red onions.

Serves 8.

Casserole-Style Chiles Rellenos

4 large poblano chile peppers (1 pound)
2 cups shredded Pepper Jack cheese
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese
1 cup purchased picante sauce
1/2 cup sour cream

Gas stove: prop peppers on a stove burner and put heat on high. Turn peppers with tongs until they are blistered and blackened all over. Turn off heat; transfer peppers to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 minutes, then remove from bowl. The skins should slip off the peppers easily, discard skins. Quarter peppers, remove seeds, veins, and stems. Place peppers, cut sides up, into a non-stick sprayed 3 quart square baking dish Top with pepper jack cheese.

Warning: the oils in poblano peppers can be absolutely incendiary. Wear rubber gloves, or coat your hands very lightly in vegetable oil, and wash very thoroughly with soap and water afterwards, especially before handling contact lenses. Otherwise, you will pass by being afraid you're going to die, and swiftly reach the stage of praying for it.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Add flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt. Whisk until smooth. Pour mixture over peppers and cheese in dish.

Bake, uncovered, in a 450 oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Bake 2 to 3 minutes more, or until cheese melts. Let stand for 5 minutes. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

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