Chili relleno, literally stuffed chili, is a Mexican dish that consists of roasted poblano pepper that is split and seeded, stuffed, coated in batter then deep fried. Served with chunky tomato sauce, it is a wonderful starter or snack with its layers of flavors, colors and textures. I’ve been wanting to make chili relleno at home but it is not easy to find chilies other than finger chilies and bird’s eye chilies in this country, and both are too small to be stuffed. Sometimes, Thai chilies are available at S&R but supply is rather erratic. Poblano chilies, occasionally available in better supermarkets, are imported and expensive. And I wondered how I’d ever get to try making chili rellenos at home.
Early this morning, while sipping my coffee, an idea struck me. Why not use bell peppers the size of poblanos then spike the cheese filling with finely chopped bird’s eye chilies to make up for the lack of spiciness of the bell peppers?
I transposed the idea into deed and we had cheese-stuffed peppers a la chili relleno for lunch today. Not traditional Mexican chili rellenos, of course, as I did not use poblano peppers. Plus, the coating was not the traditional stiffly beaten eggwhites but, rather, a combination of flour, beaten egg and panko (Japanese bread crumbs). I asked Speedy if they were good and he complained that I should have made ten stuffed peppers instead of four. Okay, so they were good. Obviously.
Actually, I started with six bell peppers but two split open in so many places that they could no longer be stuffed. As a result, I had too much cheese stuffing. So as not to let the extra bell peppers and the excess cheese stuffing go to waste, I made quesadillas with them. Lunch, then, was a combination of cheese-stuffed peppers and quesadillas.
Cheese-stuffed peppers a la chili relleno
- 6 elongated red or green bell peppers
- 2 bird’s eye chilies
- 12 onion leaves
- 1 red onion
- 100 grams cheese (I used Colby but you can use any variety that melts well)
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 egg
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup panko
- 2 cups vegetable cooking oil for frying
- chunky tomato sauce preferably homemade, for dipping
- Roast the bell peppers directly over fire.
- Turn them over every half minute or so so that the skins char as evenly as possible.
- Roast the peppers until the skins are black.
- Place the hot roasted peppers in a container with an airtight lid (a resealable plastic bag will do as well). Cover and allow to steam for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. This process makes the peppers blister so that the skins separate from the flesh.
- Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing.
- Finely slice the onion leaves.
- Finely chop the bird’s eye chilies and red onion.
- Grate the cheese.
- Place the cheese, onion leaves, onion and chilies in a bowl. Season with some salt and pepper. Toss to distribute the ingredients evenly.
- ake the bell peppers out of the container and peel off the skins.
- Using a sharp pointed knife, slit one side of the pepper.
- Now, this is where it gets a little tricky. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and membranes. Do it delicately as the flesh of the peppers are already soft and they tear easily. This is the part where I lost two bell peppers.
- Stuff the peppers with the cheese filling. I did this by hand, pushing small amount of stuffing into each pepper little by little.
- Start heating the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan.
- Create your assembly line. Place the flour on a plate. Beat the egg in a shallow bowl. Pour the panko on another plate. Place all three — flour, egg and panko — side by side.
- Holding the stuffed pepper by the stem, dredge in flour, shaking off the excess.
- Dip the floured pepper in the beaten egg, making sure that every inch of the surface is coated.
- Roll the pepper in panko, again making sure that every inch of the surface is coated.
- Repeat until all the peppers are floured, dipped in egg and rolled in panko.
- Test the temperature of the oil by dropping in a small piece of bread. If the bread turns dark brown in less than five seconds, the oil is too hot. The temperature you want is where the bread turns a golden brown in about 10 seconds (no, I don’t use a thermometer).
- Fry the stuffed and breaded peppers, no more than three or four at a time to prevent the temperature of the oil from dropping too much. Roll the peppers carefully in the hot oil for even browning. This entire process should take about 30 seconds. If the frying takes too long, the cheese will melt too much and ooze out of the peppers. That’s why it is important to fry the peppers at the correct temperature.
- Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the fried peppers and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels or napkins.
- Serve the very hot cheese-stuffed peppers a la chili relleno with chunky tomato sauce on the side.