Sunday, March 15, 2009

A recipe for chiles rellenos for the chile poblano-deprived amongst us

Living in Alsace, close to Basel, I can mostly manage to make do with the raw materials on offer hereabouts when I get one of those cravings for real Mexican food. Any French or Swiss supermarket has avocados, limes, good free-range chickens and decent enough pork; over the border at El Sol in Basel I can get dried chiles, frijoles, chiles chipotles en adobo and Maseca for making tortillas. The only thing I really, really miss are fresh chiles poblanos, those glorious, glossy green chiles about the size of green peppers with an unmistakeable/unrepeatable flavour, and which can pack a real punch. They're indispensable for making chiles rellenos. Or at least that's what I thought, until I started messing around with some chubby little red peppers (tastier and sweeter than green), and putting a bit of punch into the marinade with some fresh green chile. This is a recipe for the chiles rellenos en frío type - in other words to be served cold, none of that dipping in batter and deep frying which is a bit messy and laborious. Here the chiles (sorry, peppers) are seared on a gas flame, peeled and marinated a day ahead with some chopped fresh chile to supply the punch lacking in the peppers, then filled with guacamole and St Moret cream cheese. They look handsome on a buffet table - and they're practical too, as the peppers must be prepared a day ahead.

Serves 12 as part of a mixed buffet

12 small or 6 large red peppers

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

2 fresh green chiles (peperoncini/piments verts over here), seeded and cut in thin strips

250ml water

125ml white wine vinegar or lemon juice

a pinch of salt

a pinch of dried oregano

1 tsp crushed coriander seeds


1 clove garlic, peeled

1 tsp salt

1-2 fresh green chiles (peperoncini), seeded and finely chopped

a good handful of cilantro/coriander

3 avocados

1 pack St Moret cheese (150g)

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

juice of 2 limes

garnish: cilantro/coriander leaves and chopped spring onion

  • Sear the peppers over a gas flame or under a grill/broiler, turning often until blackened
  • Put them in a plastic bag and leave them to sweat for about 10 minutes
  • For the marinade, heat the oil in a frying pan large enough to take all the peppers in one layer and soften the onion, garlic and chile strips
  • Add water, vinegar or lemon juice and oregano, coriander seeds, salt and pepper to taste and simmer gently for about 10 minutes
  • Rub the skins off the peppers under running water, make a cut down one side, leave stalks intact but pull out the seeds, trying not to damage the peppers
  • Add them to the simmering marinade, cook for 5’, turn peppers and cook 5’ more
  • Lift out peppers with a slotted spoon and put in a dish; turn up the heat, reduce the marinade to just a few tablespoons, pour it over the peppers and leave them cool
  • For the guacamole, mash (in a pestle and mortar) or chop finely together the garlic, salt, cilantro/coriander and chile until in a paste
  • Add the avocados and cream cheese, mashing it all together till smooth
  • Stir in the tomatoes and red onion and sharpen with lime juice
  • Stuff the cool peppers with the guacamole (and cut large ones in half lengthwise)
  • Arrange them decoratively on a big platter, sprinkle with cilantro/coriander leaves and chopped spring onion