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Monday, August 8

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While there are a few things that I love done traditionally when I eat food, I'm more likely to try to mix things up when I cook them myself. For example, macaroni and cheese with fish sticks will be made from whole wheat noodles, three disparate cheeses (none of which are yellow) and the fish-sticks will be butter-stick sized tuna fillets seared lightly on all sides, cut on an angle and served with a sauce that contains pickle relish, sesame oil and soy sauce. (May sound weird, but it's pretty good.)

And this doesn't change when I'm making dishes that come from a culture that is not my own. With the onset of cooler weather, I've had a desire for baked food. Not baked goods, but casseroles, dishes that are baked and served steaming in their dish. And one of the dishes that I've been thinking about lately is chile rellenos, or stuffed peppers.

The traditional method involves roasting the pepper to remove the skin, cutting a slit in the pepper to remove the seeds and ribs, stuffing it with cheese and chorizo or ground meat and then battering and deep frying it before serving it sitting in a dish of basic tomato sauce. Sounds pretty good, right? However, I'm trying to cut back on the amount of fried food that I eat, and consequently, I'm not frying at home.

And, because this is the way my brain works, I wonder if I can somehow make this better. If I can somehow take the basic idea of a roasted pepper, stuffed with stuff, and then served in tomato sauce and make it more guera. More American. More now. And maybe a little more healthy. But I still wanted to have the cheese.

So I started thinking more Spanish than Mexican and remembered the popular tapas dish of goat cheese baked in a tureen of tomato sauce and served with garlic crusty bread. And wouldn't you know that seemed like the perfect way to up the ante on my chile relleno craving?

Chile rellenos aren't an entire meal, and I'm bored with green salads, but I still wanted something more. Something with vegetables, and I wanted something that was filling but which wasn't rice. Preferably something seasonal. So I turned to my trusty Internet connection to help me plan the side dish to go with my meal. I decided to dress up a can of pinto beans to create an alternative to refried beans, and then I made a very quick salad of chopped tomatoes and avocado.

Guera-Style Chile Rellenos
This is for making one serving. Please increase the quantities as desired. Add 3-5 more minutes in the oven for each extra serving.

2 tablespoons of pine nuts
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small clove of garlic, cut into quarters
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 ounces of goat cheese
3 tablespoons of bread crumbs
couple dashes of tobasco sauce
6 fresh basil leaves
pinch of sugar
1/4 cup of dry red wine
2 poblano or Anaheim chilis
salt and pepper to taste

Place a dry skillet over medium heat with no oil. Once it gets hot, add the pine nuts and let them cook for about 3-5 minutes, or until they're starting to brown. Shake the skillet every 20-30 seconds to keep them from burning. Once they're brown, spread them out on a plate to cool. Place the oil in the hot skillet and add the garlic. Let it cook for about 2 minutes while moving it around constantly to keep it from burning. Once it starts to smell fragrant, scoop it out with a spoon. Now add about 3 tablespoons of the diced onion and let this cook continuously for about 5-7 minutes. The onion should be starting to turn golden and be very soft. Turn off the skillet. In a blender or food processor, add the tomato sauce, garlic, remaining onion, tobasco sauce, basil leaves and sugar. Pulse it several times until it is pureed and fairly smooth. Pour it into a saucepan and add the glass of wine. Keep it uncovered over medium-low heat. Let it cook for about 20 minutes so the sauce reduces and thickens.

While the sauce cooks, spread your peppers on a baking sheet about 4 inches below your broiler. Turn them a quarter to a half turn every minute to keep them from burning or cooking too much. Once the skin is evenly blackened, put them into a plastic bag and seal it for a few minutes. Preheat your oven to 375° F. Pull the peppers out one at a time and wrap it in a tea towel or paper towel. Rubbing lightly should remove most of the skin, which will stick to the towel. Repeat until all of the peppers are skinned. Try not to rub too hard since you don't want to rip the peppers. Once all the peppers are skinned, rinse them under cool water and use the tip of a paring knife to cut down the side of the pepper about three inches, starting very close to the stem base. Being careful not to rip the pepper, remove the seeds and ribs from the pepper.

Place the pine nuts into a plastic bag and roll either a rolling pin or a can of food over the nuts to crush them. Mix the nuts in a small bowl with the cooked onion, the bread crumbs and a splash of the tobasco. Now crumble the goat cheese with your fingers and mix it into the bowl as well. Once everything is loosely combined, carefully stuff half of the mixture into each pepper. It probably won't fill up completely, but that's OK because the cheese will expand as it cooks. In a small baking dish, place each of the peppers cut-side up. Spoon enough sauce over the peppers until they're covered. Place them in the center of the oven and let them cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce starts to bubble. If you don't quite have enough sauce to cover, use a spoon to baste the peppers several times as they cook. Serve on a plate with some of the tomato sauce. Transfer the rest of the sauce to a serving bowl and use rounds of crusty bread (or garlic bread) to dip into the sauce to eat with the stuffed chiles.
Serves 1, but recipe can be easily increased.

Dressed Up Pinto Beans
1/2 of a small yellow onion
1/4 of a small green pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 15 oz. can of pinto beans with broth
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 plum tomato, diced
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 jalape┬ľo pepper, minced and with the seeds and ribs removed
Salt to taste

In a saucepan, combine the onion, pepper and olive oil over medium heat. Let everything cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the pepper and onion are starting to get soft. Reduce the heat to low. Add the beans, garlic, tomato, cumin and jalape┬ľo pepper. Reduce the heat to low. Stir to combine and let it simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed. Makes 3-4 servings as a side dish.

Avocado and Tomato Salad
1 avocado
1 plum tomato
juice from 1 lime
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro
drizzle of olive oil
large pinch of salt
a pinch of ground pepper

Use a sharp knife to cut an avocado in half lengthwise from tip to tip. Twist the halves slightly to get them to separate. Being very careful not to miss, strike the pit with the blade of your knife. Twist the knife back and forth slightly to get the pit to come away from the avocado. Place your thumb and forefinger over the back of the knife blade and slightly pinch the pit where it meets the knife. It should slide off the knife easily. Use the tip of your knife to make three incisions tip to tip through the fruit of the avocado, being careful not to cut through the skin. Turn the avocado and cut through the fruit to make square chunks. Now use the knife to loosen the flesh from the peel and pop the avocado chunks out of the skin. Cut the tomato into chunks that are about the same size and add them with the avocado to a bowl. Squeeze the lime juice over the contents of your bowl. Sprinkle the chopped cilantro over top and drizzle it with some olive oil. Toss slightly before tasting and then sprinkle with salt and pepper as desired.
Makes two servings.

So except for the goat cheese and pine nuts, this really isn't a drastically different meal than one would find at a taqueria. It just fits better with my slightly off-kilter food combo interests and it complies with my wish to focus on non-fried eating. And unlike some fried-food alternatives, I don't miss the fried part of this dish. It's the perfect dish to bid farewell to summer with and usher in fall.

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xicana / September 19, 2007 2:15 PM


Andrew / September 19, 2007 4:44 PM

Well, that's helpful.

Cinnamon / September 20, 2007 10:04 AM

Thanks for the ingredient suggestion, xicana. But that is one of the few things I refuse to even try to cook.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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