I have a confession to make: I have always found Valentine's Day unbearable! Love the romantic idea of it, just couldn't bother my you know what with all that comes with it: hair, make up, dress, perfect gift, romantic get away, flowers, chocolates, reservations, it's just all too much pressure for me so I can only imagine how hard it must be for the lads! Last year, still recovering from an expensive Christmas and a terrible January, we decided to take it easy, be sensible and spend it at home. We gave each other a small gift and we prepare a gorgeous meal for two and eat it wearing pajamas and watching our favourite show on telly: pure bliss! It went so well, that we did the same this year and here's my labour of Love for the day: Chiles Rellenos.
Chiles Rellenos or stuffed peppers, are a classic dish in Mexico. Traditionally we use poblano peppers, which are long, thick and leathery peppers with a deep green colour that grow around the Puebla Region in Mexico (hence their 'poblano' name which means 'from Puebla'). They are very flavoursome and mild in heat, although every now and then you might get a spicy one. When these chiles are dried, they become 'Ancho' peppers and in their fresh version, they are used in soups, meat based dishes and sauces.
Poblanos are close to impossible to get fresh in Dublin and if you do find them, they are expensive. I always keep my ear to the ground in case they turn up at some vegetable shop or market stall, but it is quite rare. We do stock them tinned in the shop, and although they are whole and delicious, I find the tinned variety way too brittle and delicate, which is terrible if you want to stuff them with the chunky picadillo I made for this recipe. Craving the dish, I figured out a way to make them without the poblano peppers, and although you are missing the flavour of the real poblano pepper, the stuffing and all the cooking techniques are authentic, so if you happen to find them fresh, try the recipe again and compare!
Note: Chiles Rellenos are a lot of work. I only make them occasionally but they are worth the effort and if you are clever (as I am not), you would try and spread the work load over a couple of days; you could make the stuffing a day in advance so that the work is not all on the one single day. I didn't and we ended up having dinner quite late at night! Hope you enjoy this recipe!
Charring & Peeling the Peppers:
Start by getting the peppers ready. Heat a skillet or a heavy pan to a medium to high heat and place the bell peppers freshly washed flat on it. Do not use any oil. Every 5 or so minutes, turn them gently by the stem to char the next side. Repeat this until they are complete charred. This might take about 20 to 30 minutes, so be prepare to start your stuffing while the peppers roast. I put a quick Vine video of how mine went for you to watch, I haven't figured out how to embed Vine videos here, so follow this link to see it.
The purpose of this step is to help you gently char the peppers and slightly cook them so that they can be peeled from the outer transparent skin, which is hard to digest and gives some people tummy aches. Charring the outer skin of the peppers is very important for this dish to work, so no matter how tempted you are, don't skip this step.
When the peppers are well charred, turn the heat off and put them into a plastic bag and wrap them well. Let them 'sweat' inside the bag for 15 minutes or so before you touch them again. This will make the peeling of the peppers easier and cleaner.
After the 15 minutes are gone, peel the peppers gently using clean hands. The charred skin will come off easily and you will be left with a beautifully roasted, but still firm enough pepper.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a vertical opening along the pepper, long enough to be able to introduce a spoon to the pepper if necessary. Make sure you don't cut all the way down to the stem or to the tip of the pepper as this will make it more liable to break all together and spill the contents.
Using your fingers, try and take out as many seeds as possible from inside the pepper, don't worry if you can't get them all, a few won't kill you. Rinse the inside of the pepper if you want to clean any excess loose seeds. Set the peppers aside.
Making the Stuffing:
Heat the oil in a non-stick pan, add the mince meat and break it well with a wooden spoon. Cook it at medium heat until it turns slightly brown and it starts releases its juices, about 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, onion, potatoes, carrots, mustard and Worcester sauce and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
While the meat cooks, break the stale bread into a bowl and pour the milk over it. Let it rest for a few minutes until it goes soft and gooey.
After five minutes, add the raisins, pecan nuts, apple and banana to the meat mixture and combine. Cook covered for further 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
Add the gooey milky bread to the meat mixture and stir until well combined. Cook for further 8 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are fully cooked. Set the stuffing aside.
Using your hands, carefully grab one of the peppers and start stuffing it gently using a spoon. Add a little bit of the stuffing at a time to avoid breaking the pepper. Stuff them as much as you can without over stretching them. Quick photo presentation shows you how I did it. Once all peppers have been stuffed, set them aside.
Whisk the egg white until they form stiff peaks. Carefully fold in the yolks and set aside.
Pour the oil for frying into a shallow non-stick pan and turn the heat to medium high. While the oil heats, take a plate and put the flour, salt and pepper on it and mix well.
Carefully grab one of the stuff peppers by the stem and roll it in the peppery flour, making sure it's well covered. Dip it then into the stiffed eggs making sure it gets plenty of egg. Transfer it immediately to the hot oil and fry it gently on all sides. When it is ready, take it out of the oil and let it rest in a plate with a kitchen paper towel so it absorbs all the excess oil. I've put a quick photo presentation to show you how I did it.
Serve it hot with a portion of Mexican Red Rice for a full meal. Chiles Rellenos is a delicious dish, I grant you it is labour intense, but I also promise you, if you have the time, you'll enjoy the results! Happy belated Valentine's Day!