From time to time, grocery stores seem to end up with a surplus of certain products. In the produce aisle, you can often find packages of fruits and veggies that are right on the verge of being overripe.
Sometimes these are best avoided but they can present an opportunity to try out something that might seem too expensive to waste were you to buy it at full price.
This week, Guido's Market in Pittsfield seemed to be having a tough time selling poblano peppers. I love Mexican food and Chile Rellenos are easily one of my favorites. But because poblanos don't grow in New England, they tend to be expensive and as a cook who grew up in the north, the chances of my being able to do justice to these beauties seemed pretty slim.
At $1.35 for three good-sized peppers, I could be a sport. Time to try my hand at a Mexican pepper dish.
Chile Rellenos are usually breaded and deep fried — that's too much work and anyway, my husband won't eat a big chunk of deep fried anything. That meant they had to be baked, which is healthier. But would it still be tasty? Had to be, otherwise, I wouldn't eat it.
Next, I had to face the fact that we are always short on time and our kitchen is, shall we say, unsophisticated, so they had to be simple.
I decided to bake the peppers with a Mexican stuffing and see if they would satisfy my craving. The results were surprisingly delicious so now I have another budget supper dish that is relatively healthy and dead cheap. Here it is:
First, wash three mid-sized peppers and pop the tops off. You do this by pushing the stem of the pepper down into hollow center. The stem and part of the top will break off in a neat little circle and usually the seeds will still be attached. It's kinda fun.
Shake the topless pepper out over the compost bin, the rest of the seeds will fall out. Doesn't matter if you don't get them all, you'll never notice a few little seeds in the end.
Set the peppers aside.
Cut a medium-large sized onion in half, take the skin off and cut it into a bowl. You can dice it as fine as you like; I just cut little chunks off until it's all gone. It's easy and clean.
Next, get a few garlic cloves, three at least, more if you like, peel them and mash or cut them into the same bowl as the onion.
Take a slice or two of stale bread, any kind. The grainier it is, the better it will hold up. I like rye. Tear the bread into the bowl, (in fingertip-sized chunks.)
Find a few tomatoes or a zucchini or some mushrooms or a combination of the three but not a lot — one medium tomato, half a zucchini or half a dozen mushrooms are enough. Cut them into the bowl with your bread, onions and garlic, cut them small — once again, the size of your fingertip (just don't cut your fingertip!).
Cheese is next: use whatever you have in the fridge. I used about a half cup of very sharp cheddar, one called Coastal, that we like in just about everything. That said, it doesn't matter what kind of cheese you use as long as you like it. Your cheese pieces should be small, too,like everything else.
Next, dump in around a quarter cup of cumin. Yes, I know, it seems like a lot. Trust me, the second time you make it, you'll use even more. If you don't have cumin, use chili powder and use a little less maybe an 1/8 cup. If you don't have chili powder or cumin — are you sure you like Mexican food? Again, use whatever you have and like the most.
I add 1/3 cup of chicken stock, jellied. It’s something I usually have around but if you don’t have that, you can use canned stock or no stock at all — use a little olive oil and milk or vegetable stock or tomato juice or even a little bit of water. You just want it to be a bit moist, if you can add to the taste that’s great but it will still be good without.
You can also add some chopped chicken if you eat meat or a handful of nuts if you don’t.
Vegan? Leave the cheese out and substitute tofu or a cut-up avocado. If you like heat, now is the time to shake in some hot sauce, ditto for salsa.
Gluten-free? Use cooked rice instead of bread in the stuffing, and use gluten-free cheese or once, again, an avocado with a few pepitas (pumpkin seeds) inside.
Whichever was you go — now’s the time to toss the stuff in the bowl until it's evenly mixed and then, using a tablespoon, fill each one of the peppers as tightly as you can.
Once the peppers are filled, lay them on their side in a baking dish and put them in a 350 oven for an hour. You can cook any leftover stuffing in a dish alongside.
The result? The skins of the peppers will look black but the peppers will be sweet and mellow. Everything else melts together and the result is a simple main dish that looks and tastes like a summer dinner on the patio but feels warm and comforting.
Serve with rice and a salad, or rice and beans or roasted sweet potatoes and cole slaw, whatever you like. Easy yum.