Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cheese-less chile rellenos

I love chile rellenos. But what I don’t love is feeling like a bloated old beached whale after I consume what is essentially a pound of deep fried cheese. Luckily, when I was visiting a rural village in Oaxaca, Mexico, I came across this version. It swaps out the cheese for a savory vegan stuffing that’s every bit as good as it’s cheesy cousin… but it won’t make you feel like a manatee who just ate a tub of lard for dinner. Note that this can be prepared vegan by substituting garbanzo bean water (called aquafaba)--it’s a brilliant old vegan life hack that’s good for meringues and other whipped egg white applications!

While ingredients like capers, raisins, olives, parsley, and olive oil might seem out of place in Mexican cooking, I’ve found many of these are actually really common during my time living south of the border. So don’t think this is some gringo-ification of an otherwise great recipe. This is exactly as I was taught to make the rellenos.

Prep time: 4 cocktails

To make the filling:
1/3 pound fresh oyster mushrooms
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, whole
2 tsp salt
2 allspice berries
3 cups water
2 TBSP olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 additional cloves garlic, minced
1 pound tomatoes, chopped
2 sprigs Italian flat leaf parsley
2 allspice berries
2 cloves
½ cinnamon stick
1 more sprig thyme
¼ cup raisins, chopped coarsely
1 TBSP capers
10 green olives, chopped + 1 TBSP of the olive brine
16 whole, raw, unsalted almonds

Combine first 6 ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until mushrooms have softened but aren’t mushy, 10-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Remove mushrooms and shred with a fork like shredded chicken. Discard the rest of the other ingredients in the saucepan.

Next, in a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Now add the shredded mushrooms, tomatoes, parsley, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Now add the second sprig of thyme, raisins, capers, and olives with brine to the mushroom/tomato mixture. Sauté until all excess water has cooked off, about 20 minutes. Salt to taste about halfway through.

While your mushroom and tomato mixture simmers, bring a cup or two of water to a boil. Add the almonds and remove from heat. Let it soak for 10 minutes. Then remove the almonds from the water and peel them by squeezing each almond between your thumb and forefinger. You can chop the almonds up a tad if you like as well, but that’s optional.

Toss the almonds into the simmering mixture once all the liquid in the mixture has fully cooked off and remove the parsley, thyme, and dry spices if you can find them. Set mixture aside.

To make the chilies:
You can make this recipe with fresh and/or dried chilies.

12 chilies, fresh or dried
6 eggs (or about 3/4 cup garbanzo bean water), whites and yolks separated
1 Tbsp white flour
Oil for frying
Your favorite Mexican sauces or salsas for serving
Beans or other Mexican sides are a great addition too

For fresh chilies:
Use poblano or some other good sized chili for stuffing. First, cut a slit in each peppers and the grill or oven broil, turning every couple minutes until pretty well-charred or blistered. Transfer to a Tupperware with lid or a paper bag and close the top. Let sit for 10 minutes then remove and peel skin under cold running water. Also, remove innards through the slit you cut. The chilies will be delicate and it is possible to mutilate them. Do your best to keep them in tact, or else they’ll spill their contents when you fry them.

For dried chilies:
You will want to use an ancho or some other large, fairly mild chili for this. Cut a small slit in each chili. Boil a couple quarts of water and add the chilies. Remove immediately from heat and let soak until soft, about 15 minutes. Remove chilies from water, pat with towel until fully dry and remove innards through slit you cut. Like the fresh chilies, these are delicate, so try not to mutilate them.

For all chilies:
After you’ve prepared the chilies as described above, stuff them by gently spooning in the filling.

Next, combine the egg whites in a mixing bowl. Using an electric beater, mix until they are totally stiff, which can take up to 15 minutes. Now gently fold in the yolks and flour to your whipped whites.

Heat a frying pan with a neutral-flavored frying oil, like canola over medium heat. You want it to be between a half inch and an inch in depth.

Now, using a big spoon, very gently lower a chile into the egg batter (you might have to spoon a little over the top to fully cover them). After you’ve battered a chili, gently lower it into the oil—this is easiest if you pinch the stem and slowly slide it off your dipping spoon. Fry 1-2 chilies at a time. Flip over once the bottom is golden brown. If the chilies are too delicate to flip, just spoon hot oil over the top until the batter has solidified enough to flip without the contents falling out.

After each chile is nicely golden brown on all sides, remove from oil and transfer to a paper towel-lined platter and blot additional oil off the tops.

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