Monday, August 4, 2008
Last week, I mentioned a friend of mine who craves Tex-Mex when she is stressed out. That got me thinking: I haven't made chiles rellenos in a while.
Tex-Mex cooking has the unfortunate (but well-deserved) reputation for being heavy, fattening, salty, and served in platters that could feed three people. I love the stuff. Growing up in Texas, my family would go to church on Sunday mornings, then head over to our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant for enchiladas, carne asada, tortilla soup, and chips and salsa.
When I went away to college in the far, dark North, my mother froze a pint of salsa from our favorite restaurant and sent it to me so that I would not suffer from withdrawal. I crave Tex-Mex to this day, but I just shouldn't eat it in the quantities that I did when I was fourteen.
This quandary provoked me to create a few healthier versions of some of my favorite Tex-Mex recipes so that I can get my fix without losing a year of my life to every plate that I eat.
My chiles rellenos--or "stuffed peppers"--are vegetarian but completely filling. Trust me, even a true Tex-Mex fanatic will acknowledge that these little guys are great, even if they aren't cooked in lard and topped with processed cheese.
Vegetarian Chiles Rellenos
A Fritter Original
For the Chiles Rellenos
2 large red bell peppers
1/2 cup brown rice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup raw pine nuts
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, shelled and unsalted
1/4 cup poblano pepper, chopped (reduce to 1/8 cup if you are sensitive to spiciness)
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper
For the Salsa
1 15-ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/8 cup of poblano pepper, chopped (omit if you are sensitive to spiciness)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of half of a lime
Put the brown rice in a small pot of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is al dente. Remove the rice from the heat, drain, return it to the pot, cover, and set aside for later use.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion, carrots, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds, tossing to coat with the oil. Stir every minute or so for 8-10 minutes, until the nuts are golden and the onion is nearly translucent. Add the poblano pepper, garlic, cumin, chile powder, flat-leaf parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper, then stir to combine. Saute for another 3-5 minutes.
Add the nut mixture to the rice and stir well to incorporate.
Cut the tops off of the red bell peppers and remove the seeds. Scoop the rice and nut mixture into the bell peppers, then place the cap of the pepper back on. Place the bell peppers upright in an oven-proof skillet and add 1 cup of water to the skillet so that the peppers are standing upright in the bath. This will tenderize the peppers.
Place the skillet in the oven, uncovered, and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. The peppers should still be fairly firm and able to stand upright when done.
While the peppers are baking, make the salsa. In a saucepan over low heat, combine the canned tomatoes, red onion, poblano pepper, and cilantro. Simmer gently for 5-8 minutes. Add the lime juice right before serving.
Serve the chiles rellenos in a shallow bowl with the salsa, and devour.