One of my favorite things to eat is a Tex-Mex chile relleno. Even in the tackiest of Americanized Mexican restaurants, you can count on a roasted poblano, filled with cheese or ground beef, fried to crispiness, then smothered in tomato sauce to ensure sogginess by the time it hits the table. Even the laziest of kitchens produce a fine, if bland, version of this dish. I thought I could do better.
Since I’ve been on a bit of a health kick lately, I wanted to make these at home, creating a version that would be both healthy and delicious. That meant no batter and no frying. It also meant that the pepper had to be stuffed with meat – cheese would be too heavy, and we all need protein. To boost the flavor, lean ground beef is sauteed with onion and cumin.
The tomato sauce that ties everything together is enlivened with dried chiles. I use two guajillos, which packs some heat. Feel free to use just one if you’re sensitive to spice, or substitute something milder like puja chiles. They can be found at many Mexican grocery stores.
The recipe is complex because there are many steps, but it’s easy to multitask and execute. You’ll need your broiler to roast the poblanos and add a smoky flavor to the onions and garlic. If you’ve never rehydrated chiles before, now’s the time to start. You’ll toast the dried peppers in a hot skillet, then cover them with water. After they soak, they will be soft, pliant, flavorful, and ready to add that extra touch to your sauce.
Use a pan large enough to hold all the chiles, but compact enough that the sauce covers them during baking.
If you use lean ground beef (96/4) and little to no cheese, this recipe could be considered healthy. With the explosion of flavor from the sauce, I promise you won’t miss cheese-stuffed chiles.
Recipe: Skinny Chiles Rellenos
2 dried guajillo chiles
2 small onions, one peeled and quartered, the other diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
6 poblano chiles
6 Roma tomatoes, halved and seeded (or 1 14.5-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound lean ground beef
Monterey Jack cheese, grated, to taste
Cilantro to taste, for garnish
In a small skillet over high heat, toast the guajillo chiles, flipping frequently, until puffy. Add enough water to cover them and let the water come to a boil. When it boils, turn off the burner and allow the chiles to soak for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, rinse and place in a blender.
Meanwhile, over a gas burner or under the broiler of your oven, roast the poblano chiles until blackened on each side. Place the chiles into a plastic bag and close tightly, allowing them to steam for 10 minutes.
Under your broiler, roast the tomatoes (if using whole ones), onion quarters, and garlic cloves until they blacken a little bit. Place the tomatoes, onion, and garlic into the blender with the chiles. Add 1 teaspoon of cumin, coriander, and oregano, half of the salt, and a splash of water. Blend on high until smooth, adding a little more water if necessary to get things moving around in there. Remove sauce to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Allow it to simmer for 10 minutes, until it thickens slightly.
Meanwhile, grab the poblanos. Carefully peel off the blistered skin, being careful to keep the flesh intact. Cut a slit down the side of each pepper and pull out the seeds. Arrange in a baking dish.
In a saute pan, cook the ground beef with the diced onion and the remaining cumin. Salt to taste if you’d like. Drain off the fat.
Carefully spoon the ground beef mixture into each poblano pepper, using your fingers to push the flesh back together after you’re done. Cover generously with tomato sauce, sprinkle with a little cheese if you’re using it, and bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese on top melts and browns a little bit.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice and a salad on the side.
Serves two or three as an entree; six as an appetizer.