When I think of chile relleno, I think of “restaurant” food, or special occasion food. I seldom made these in the past because they can be pretty labor intensive, and they are traditionally fried and stuffed with cheese – not diet friendly. But they are SO delicious! Crunchy on the outside, soft and warm in the inside, all smothered in an outrageous fresh tomato sauce.
When developing the recipe for Spinach and Kale Salad with Jamaica Vinaigrette, I wanted to come up with a main dish to compliment the sweet salad, and I landed on chiles rellenos. Of course, because we are eating vegan right now, there could be no cheese, and I wanted to figure out if I can do a baked chile relleno in a spiced batter instead of frying.
For my baked batter, I used a method similar to the Baked Cauliflower Buffalo Wings, and the Orange Cauliflower Stir Fry, except for this batter, I added some Mexican seasonings to enhance the flavor.
Instead of cheese, I used refried black beans and roasted potatoes in my baked chile relleno, ingredients that are also traditional in some chiles rellenos. If you aren’t vegan, I highly recommend making some stuffed with a chunk of Oaxacan cheese – so good!
Once I figured out my recipe adjustments, I wanted to determine if there could be a make-ahead stopping point, to enable you to make half of the recipe the day before, then finish it when ready to eat. It turns out you can prep the peppers up to right before the batter stage, refrigerate them, then coat with the batter and bake they day you are ready to eat. If you can plan ahead, I recommend do it this way, because from start to finish the whole recipe can take 3 hours or more to prepare. See what I mean about labor intensive?
The good news is, much of the prep time is spent “sweating” the chiles, so you can do other things while this is going on. In fact, I got all kinds of housework done during the making of this recipe!
So let’s review some chili handling procedures. You will first need to char the poblanos on a comal or in the oven under a broiler. We have a great little cast iron comal that I use all the time for charring vegetables, making tortillas, heating tortillas… You can also do really good toasted sandwiches on a comal. If you don’t have one, not very expensive to buy. Otherwise you can roast your poblanos in the oven on broil on a baking sheet covered in foil and lined in parchment.
On a comal, you will be charring on medium high heat, for 20 minutes total, turning the peppers every five minutes. It’s important to let the poblanos sit and blister without disturbance for five minutes on each side. If you fuss with them, you’ll find the whole process actually takes much longer. I actually set my timer in five minute increments so I could just walk away from the stove while they char. That way I wasn’t tempted to mess with them by moving them around! If you’re doing this in the oven, try 10 minutes on each side and see where that gets you. Depending on how far away your baking sheet is from the broiler, oven time can be longer or shorter.
As soon as the poblanos are charred all over, immediately transfer them to a bag where they can “sweat”. The sweating helps all the skin loosen from the pepper flesh, so they are easier to peel. The pepper also continues to cook a little while in the bag so you end up with a soft pepper once it has fully “sweated it out”. I like to put a couple of brown lunch bags into the plastic produce bag I bought the pepper in, then drop the peppers in the brown bags as soon as they come off the comal, and close everything up with a chip clip. Sealing the bag is imperative for keeping the steam inside. You want to let the peppers sit for long enough to allow them to finish cooking, and to become cool enough to handle. I let mine sit for two hours.
Next, you need to peel the poblanos. You’ll notice some of the skin will be coming off as you remove the peppers from the bag. Use the back of a butter knife or the side of a spoon to gently scrape the sides of the pepper, removing the black charred skin, and gently peel off the thin, and sort of translucent skin. I will admit this step is kind of difficult, sometimes it’s not possible to get all the skin off, and thats ok. The skin is fine to eat, this step is mostly for removing the black bits and making an even surface for the batter to adhere to. Take off what you can, and leave the rest. As you can see from the below photo, I wasn’t able to remove all the skin from my peppers.
Once the skin is removed, make one incision down the side of the pepper, about one inch from the top, and stopping one inch before the bottom of the pepper. The cut should big enough to get a spoon inside to stuff the pepper, but not so big that all the filling will fall out. Once I’ve cut all my peppers, I like to take a spoon and carefully scrape out the seeds. This reduces the heat level a bit, and I prefer to not have a mouthful of seeds. This step is optional – you can also gently run some water through the pepper to wash away and seeds that are stuck.
At this point, you can refrigerate your peppers and finish the dish later, or if you have your fillings prepared, go ahead and stuff the peppers and set aside for later. I stuffed my peppers and nestled them in a container, cut side up, while I worked on other things until dinner time.
Now it’s time to talk specifics on sauce and filling. While your peppers are sweating, you can prepare your sauce and filling.
I went a little fancy with my sauce ingredients because, well, no particular reason other than the yellow tomatoes were looking really good at the store, and I rarely find red fresno chiles fresh at the market so I bought some. Regular red tomatoes are totally acceptable, and regular green jalapeños are my usual go-to chile.
The sauce totally brings the whole dish together. I can confirm that we have finished all two cups of sauce in under 24 hours between two people. The sauce is basically a “restaurant style” salsa – it can be served both hot and cold – which is GOOD because you can serve any extra sauce with tortilla chips. I promise you will not have trouble getting rid of this sauce. The trick with this sauce is to purée all the ingredients fresh and raw, then you will essentially fry the purée in a little oil before adding some broth to thin it out. The main flavor differentiator between this sauce and any ole salsa, is the cooking time with the addition of veggie stock. The stock adds a complex flavor, more rich and far less acidic than your run of the mill salsa. I used homemade veggie stock, store bought is fine, and chicken stock is also used in other recipes, but I personally think vegetable stock makes the most sense here.
The sauce can be cooked for 30 minutes or three hours. It’s totally up to you and the time you wish to dedicate to it. The sauce will darken a little in color as it cooks, and deepen in flavor the longer you cook it. I cooked mine for about 2 and a half hours. Taste your sauce as it cooks. If you are satisfied with the flavor after a shorter cooking time, then it’s done!
As mentioned before, cheese is probably the most widely used filling for chiles rellenos. If you want to go that route – go for it! It’s super delicious. I recommend Oaxacan cheese, which is a Mexican melting cheese similar to mozzarella (but with more flavor). But for a vegan option, I opted for refried black beans and roasted potatoes. Beans and potatoes are used all the time to stuff peppers in Mexican recipes, so this is not really a deviation from tradition. I like to oven bake my potato cubes in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes. And for the beans, I always have a container of prepared beans in my fridge. I simply refried and mashed a portion of my cooked whole beans I had prepared a week before. If you don’t have homemade beans available, you can either cook a can of whole black beans or just buy a can of prepared refried beans.
I like to prepare my beans from scratch because I can completely control the seasoning and salt level. I’m a bean control freak! I also really love beans so it’s a total requirement to have them available at all times, so I make a huge pot every two weeks. Traditional refried beans are usually cooked in lard. I never cook with lard so my method is to simply heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet, then I cook about a can’s worth of whole black beans with bean liquid on medium high until the liquid is simmering. Then with a potato masher, I mash the beans to form a paste. That’s it! I don’t need to season them because my pre-cooked beans were already seasoned. If you want to refry whole canned beans, try adding a little cumin, chili powder, then salt and pepper to taste.
That’s it for the filling. When you’re ready to stuff, do so a spoonful at a time. Be careful to not overfill, or tear the pepper. Quantity of filling per pepper depends on the size of your poblanos. I managed to fit about a 1/4 cup of filling per pepper, maybe a little more.
I made a simple, thick batter seasoned with cumin, chili powder, garlic powder salt and pepper. Whisk everything well to combine and remove all lumps. A pie plate or shallow dish wide enough to fit a pepper in is best. The easiest way to coat the pepper is to prepare a baking sheet with parchment first (and make sure the oven is preheated) and spray the parchment with vegetable oil spray. Then gently roll just the uncut sides of the pepper in the batter dish. Place the mostly-coated pepper on the parchment, and spoon a little batter over the rest of the pepper to coat completely. This method ensures that no filling will fall out, because the cut side remains upright. Do this with the rest of the peppers and bake at 450 for 5 minutes. After five minutes, remove from the oven and give them a quick spray with oil. This will help them brown. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. That’s it! Plate them up, top with the warm sauce and eat!