A lightened up chile relleno, this recipe begins with roasted poblano peppers stuffed with cheesy quinoa, caramelized onions and butternut squash, and ends with a creamy pumpkin seed sauce kissed with lime and cumin. Vegetarian and gluten-free.
Winter squash tumble into season in early fall just as peppers are soaking up the last rays of summer sun. Lately we’ve been slightly obsessed with poblanos, especially in conjunction with sweet, mild winter squash. I used to be a wimp about spicy peppers, but after years of being tortured by Jay at Mexican and Pakistani restaurants, forcing down food that tasted like pure capsicum rather than face hunger, I’ve toughened up a bit. (Thanks, hon!)
Thus my newfound love of poblano chiles, which I’ve been enjoying not only in Mexican cuisine, but also in the Indian dish Simla Mirch from Kasa, in a curry I’ve been making that I hope to share before pepper season ends, and especially in these chiles rellenos. Poblanos can vary in heat from mild to pretty darn hot. If you luck out and get some tame ones, you’ll get to appreciate their deep, earthy flavor, which is less sweet than their bell and gypsy counterparts. Like those other peppers, poblanos have thick, meaty walls, which make them ideal for stuffing.
Chiles rellenos are one of my and Jay’s favorite foods, but the ones we find at restaurants are usually stuffed with cheese, battered, deep fried, and served up in a pool of grease. It’s hard to eat one without worrying about the health of one’s heart (not to mention one’s thighs).
This is one reason that we love Marinita’s in San Anselmo, which makes some of the tastiest Mexican food around and is well worth the trip across the Golden Gate. (Plus my sister lives right around the corner and is always up for a margarita or two. [I guess that runs in the family.]) We’re particularly fond of Marinita’s chile relleno, which is appetizer-sized and stuffed with vegetables. Rather than frying the peppers, they serve them roasted, and a puddle of creamy pepita sauce replaces the usual pool of fryer grease.
Since driving to Marin for dinner every night isn’t feasible, I made my own homage to their chile relleno. I stuff them with quinoa tossed with caramelized onion, butternut squash, goat cheese and dry jack. If you can find Vella’s dry jack, made in California, I highly recommend using it here. A fairly firm grating cheese, it tastes like a sweeter version of parmesan with a nutty, almost caramelized flavor. It really makes this filling pop, though another flavorful melting cheese, such as goat gouda or sharp cheddar, would work well, too.
Previous attempts at stuffing poblano chiles resulted in falling apart pepper bits that wound up unstuffable and became stuffing themselves in these enchiladas. I’ve since learned that the key is charring them just enough so that their skins can be peeled away but the walls of the pepper still hold their shape. And rather than try to get all the skin off, I leave the stubborn bits attached so as to maintain the integrity of the walls.
With that small detail out of the way, the stuffing itself is stupid easy to make, but its full flavor and creamy texture belie its simplicity. Quinoa is steamed, onions are caramelized, squash is cooked. They all get folded together with two cheeses, and that’s it. Stuffing the peppers takes a bit of finessing to keep their shape, but a bit of patience results in pretty peppers.
To top these, I channeled my inner Marinita and made a simple sauce from soaked pumpkin seeds and seasoned with toasted cumin, garlic, and lime. It not only makes a creamy foil for the peppers, but extras are fabulous atop salads, tostadas, or steamed vegetables.
And if you do happen to get a batch of über-spicy poblanos and your dinner tastes like burning, never fear: copious amounts of pumpkin seed crema, avocado, cheese, grains, and squash will all help to quell the fire in your mouth.
And if all else fails, wash it down with a tall cerveza. Or a margarita.
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Duck Egg Salad with Curry and Dill
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Soft and Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
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Cacao Nib Ice Cream
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Decadent Eggs on Toast
Roasted Poblano Chiles Stuffed with Cheesy Butternut Squash Quinoa + Pepita Crema
Inspired by Marinita‘s chile relleno
Be sure to soak the pepitas for at least 4 hours (and up to 12) to ensure a creamy sauce. I like to soak my quinoa for an hour, ousting bitterness and shortening the cooking time; alternatively, soak it for 5 minutes, rinse it well, and add a little more water when you cook it.
Poblanos can vary greatly in spiciness depending on their growing conditions. If you’re sensitive to spice like me, cross your fingers for mild ones, or make this with sweet bell peppers. Anaheim / Hatch / New Mexican green chiles are similar to poblanos in that they can range from mild to fairly hot, and can also stand in here. For the squash, I like to use the neck of a large butternut as its straight shape makes it easy to peel with a T-shaped vegetable peeler. Save the base to roast separately for another use. These chiles can be made and stuffed ahead of time, then popped in the oven when ready to heat and serve. I think you could make these vegan by simply omitting the cheese and doubling the other filling ingredients.
Makes 6 medium-sized servings
For the quinoa:
1/2 cup quinoa (white or multi), soaked 1 hour in cool water, rinsed well, and drained
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the peppers and stuffing:
6 medium-sized, meaty poblano chiles (or other sweet or mildly spicy peppers, such as bell or Anaheim/Hatch)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved, and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash
1/4 cup water
1 cup (4 ounces / 115 grams) crumbled fresh goat cheese
1 cup (3 ounces / 85 grams) grated dry jack cheese (or other tasty melting cheese such as sharp cheddar)
cilantro leaves, extra goat cheese and pepitas, lime wedges, and avocado slices for garnish (optional)
For the pepita crema:
1 cup pepitas, raw or lightly toasted, soaked 4-12 hours in cool water and drained
1 1/4 teaspoons cumin seeds
juice of 1-2 limes
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large garlic clove
1 1/4 cups water
Cook the quinoa:
In a medium saucepan, combine the soaked and drained quinoa, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, then immediately decrease the heat to very low, cover, and let steam until all the water is absorbed, 10-15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. The quinoa should be cooked through but still a little bit firm. If it is too crunchy, sprinkle in a few more tablespoons of water and continue cooking.
Prepare the peppers:
Preheat the broiler. Place the whole peppers on a baking sheet and broil on each side until the skin is blackened and blistered in places, a few minutes per side. Ideally, the pepper is softened, but firm enough to hold its shape. The roasting process will take about 10 minutes in total.
Remove the peppers from the broiler and let them cool completely. When cool, gently peel away as much skin as will come off easily. Cut a slit down the center of each pepper, leaving them connected at the top and bottom. Working carefully in order to keep the pepper in one piece, remove the seeds and ribs; I found my fingers worked best, but do wash your hands and under your nails thoroughly with soap afterwards to remove the oils which can burn your skin (or wear gloves as you work).
Make the filling:
Heat the oil in a wide skillet over a medium flame until it shimmers. Add the onions and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and beginning to color. Add the squash and water, cover, and simmer until the squash is tender but still holding its shape, about 10 minutes.
Let the squash mixture cool slightly, then place it in a large bowl with the quinoa. Add the cheeses and fold gently to combine.
Stuff and bake the peppers:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Carefully stuff the filling into the peppers, filling them all the way and pressing them back into shape if need be. Place the peppers in a baking dish and bake until heated through, 20 minutes.
Make the pepita crema:
Toast the cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet over a medium flame, shaking frequently, until they smell nutty, 1-2 minutes. In the bowl of a blender, combine the soaked and drained pepitas, toasted cumin seeds, juice of 1 lime, salt, garlic, and half of the water. Blend to a paste, slowly adding the rest of the water to make a thick sauce. Blend on high until very smooth, 3-5 minutes. Taste, adding more salt or lime if you feel it needs it. The crema will keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Serve the peppers:
Place each pepper on a plate in a puddle of crema. Drizzle a little extra crema over the peppers and garnish with goat cheese, cilantro, and pepitas if you like, adding avocado slices and lime wedges to the plates. Extra peppers can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve for up to a few days.