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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

*bueno relleno.

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I suppose it's becoming more and more obvious all the time that we like ourselves some Mexican food around here. 

I have many friends who love a good chile relleno, and while I do appreciate them, I tend not to order them because I don't want to miss out on soft tortillas and crisp pico de gallo and cool, crunchy lettuce.

I'm a tacos al carbon girl, as a rule.

Those I know who worship at the altar of the chile relleno, though, are pretty specific about what a chile relleno should be—poblano pepper, please, no substitutions. (Some Mexican restaurants in our decidedly un-Mexican town have attempted to pass these off in run-of-the-mill green bell peppers before. From what I understand, this is tantamount to heresy.) My chile relleno fans also don't prefer their peppers breaded and fried.

So I cast about on the ole Interwebs to find something that filled the bill, but I didn't find a recipe that was exactly what my in-head vision was hoping for.

(Note: This is often a problem. Inside my head is not an un-scary place to be, I think.)

For one thing, because I didn't want any aggressive sauciness to detract from the flavor of the pepper itself—or detract from the work the broiler was going to do on that cheese, heaven forfend—I wanted the filling to be more than just meat with cheese plopped on top. I wanted it to be flavorful and creamy and spicy, and also to sort of ... well, beef up the beef. I needed it to be perky and assertive, not gloppy and gray.

What an appetizing image.

Adjust the jalepeño heat to your taste; it helps to add a little and then increase if you want more spiciness. Fresh jalapeños would also do here, but you'll get a slightly less lively, vinegary flavor.

You want to roast the peppers just until the skins start to blister, but not ALL the way to scorched and black—getting them slightly less well-done helps the pepper keep its shape a bit so that it's a nice pocket for the filling and not an utter collapse.

I served these with some canned fat-free refried beans and a little cilantro-lime brown rice on the side. My baby sister is the one who taught me to add water to canned beans until they come to the consistency you like—it's a great trick that works for thinning them out and making them nice and creamy without any added fat.

These turned out just brilliantly, according to my expert critics. I may be a relleno convert yet. You'll want fairly sizable chiles, if you can find them, but if not you're likely to have some of that spicy, creamy beef left over.

In which case, I say whip you up some tacos on the side.

¡Olé!
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Spicy Beef Chiles Rellenos

4 large poblano chiles
1 pound lean ground beef
Kosher salt
Black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup cream cheese
¼ cup sour cream
Pickled jalapeño pepper slices, to taste
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated

1. Preheat broiler. Place chiles on an aluminum foil–lined baking sheet. Broil about 8 minutes, turning with tongs every 2 minutes, until chile skins blister and slightly brown. Place chiles in a bowl, and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand 15 minutes.

2. Place cream cheese, sour cream, jalapeños, and cilantro in a blender; pulse until mixture is smooth. (Adjust mixture to taste, adding more peppers for heat or more cream cheese or sour cream for mildness.)

3. Place beef in a dry skillet over medium-high heat; season with salt and pepper, and stir in garlic powder, onion powder, and dried cumin. Cook until liquid has evaporated and beef is cooked through and browned. Reduce heat to medium, and stir in flour. Cook 1 minute. Reduce heat to low, and stir in cream cheese mixture.

4. Peel skins from chiles, and carefully cut a slit through one side of skin to create a pocket. Remove seeds, and place peppers on an aluminum foil–lined baking sheet. Fill each pepper with beef mixture; top evenly with grated cheese. Broil 3 to 4 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Makes 4 servings.

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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