31 - Chile Rellenos

I've always loved chile rellenos. Is it true that combination #7 in almost all Mexican restaurants is one chili relleno and one enchilada? In any case I suspect I have eaten more than my share of numero sietes. I know. I know. The chile rellenos in restaurants--like the Indian food served in cheap places on 6th street in the East Village in the 60's or chop suey served in Chinese restaurants everywhere in the world--are not worthy representatives of their national cuisine. But all these foods are analogous to gateway drugs. They whet our appetites and might lead to all sorts of surprising culinary adventures.

In recent years I have been following a very simple recipe for my own quite authentic rellenos. At some point, I forgot the source and tried to re-capture it. Had I made it up? An internet search led me to the website for the People's Guide to Mexico--and the one recipe there (at least the only one I saw) is in fact for a dish very similar to the recipe I used.

The People's Guide to Mexico was our bible when we traveled to Mexico from Somerville, in the summer of 1974. Published in 1972, it was a guide for people traveling by car or van, camping, doing their own cooking, etc. Although we traveled primarily by bus--the book captured our spirit--and for whatever reasons--we found it indispensable.

Visiting my sister, we used a recipe from Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery by Alan Hooker, though I knew I’d never seen that before. Eventually, after months of thumbing through cookbooks, I discovered the well-stained chile relleno recipe in my copy of Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico—from which I’d originally learned (and then forgotten) how to stuff and batter the chiles. So with a nod and thanks to all of the above---here's the amalgamated recipe:
First--make a tomato sauce:

Sauté in olive oil two finely chopped onions. When they are soft, add finely chopped garlic. After a few more seconds—you don’t want the garlic to brown, add a couple of cups of mashed canned tomatoes (or roasted tomatoes, or cooked fresh tomatoes--whatever you might have). If available I'd also add some cumin, maybe a stick of cinnamon and a few cloves.
While the sauce is cooking, or earlier if you've remembered--put your poblano chiles in the broiler--turning them until the skin is blistery and black. When done--pop them in a plastic bag and let them steam for a while--until the outer burnt skin easily peels off. Remove the seeds--slit the peppers (try not to tear them too much--but the truth is--once you put them in your excellent batter all injuries will be healed--so don't be nervous). Put a piece of cheese, pepper jack, cheddar, whatever. All kinds of meat and vegetable stuffings are possible--but this is a recipe for cheese-stuffed chili rellenos. Once peppers are properly stuffed, roll them in flour.

Separate eggs---one egg for each one or two peppers---depends on how much batter you want. I like lots of fluffy batter, which looks quite gorgeous--so I’d go for more eggs--but you'll figure it out. Beat egg whites until thick--not quite stiff, with a few pinches of salt. Carefully stir in lightly beaten yolks. Gently fold one Tbsp sifted flour per egg into the mixture, keeping eggs as stiff as possible.

Heat canola oil in heavy duty pan. Using a spoon, and perhaps a spatula as well, dip each chile into the batter, and coat it completely. Slip chiles into the hot oil. It should be like a small miracle--the batter completely encasing what might be a straggly chile with cheese trying to escape. When golden brown on one side, turn over. As peppers finish browning carefully put them into the tomato sauce--which is cooking at a very low simmer. When all peppers are in sauce, cook a bit longer; making sure cheese is fully melted. Serve.

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