It sounds unlikely, but I swear it’s true: the residents of Grand Forks, North Dakota are obsessed with Tex-Mex food. I know this because I came of age there, and I and my fellow starving high school friends spent the bulk of our disposable income on tacos, smothered burritos, chips and “sauce,” grinders (a future post, by the way, stay tuned), and chimichangas. They were all probably a little bit not good, but we didn’t know that then, and in fact, never will. (Or at least I never will, because my taste buds are so wrapped up in nostalgia that it all just tastes like deliciously spicy teenage freedom, which—as far as flavor profiles go—is pretty hard to beat.) Given that none of these joints exist in the Twin Cities, I spend a fair amount of time recreating the dishes I crave the most. While I’m at it, I freshen them up a bit, with whole ingredients I feel good about eating.
Therefore this version of chiles rellenos! Don’t just walk by those mountains of dark, glossy chiles now showing at farmers markets, wondering what to do with them. Stuff them! Poblanos are mild enough for Midwestern palates yet loaded with fresh chile flavor. I stuffed my latest batch with ground beef and cheese, but feel free to go the more traditional route and skip the beef. Whole chiles and glorious oozing salty cheese with plenty of fresh oregano, mmm. They’re usually dipped in batter and fried–which makes them amazing–but I love them this way too, which puts the focus on the smoky peppers. I get my nostalgia fix and a colorful, healthy meal to boot.
Ranchero sauce, other than being a terrific way to use up garden tomatoes, is the sauce of choice for huevos rancheros. Make a double batch to eat with fresh corn tortillas and fried eggs.
Chiles Rellenos with Ranchero Sauce
8 fresh poblano (or other large) chiles
1 lb. ground beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ancho chile powder (or more, to taste)
3 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried)
1 c. grated cheese (jack or cheddar)
freshly ground black pepper
Ranchero sauce (recipe below)
guacamole or avocado slices
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil the paper.
Blister and blacken the skins of the chiles under a broiler, over a gas flame, or on a hot grill. Place the blackened chiles in a plastic bag and seal. Let rest for 30 minutes, or until chiles are cooled (they’ll be quite steamy in the bag).
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon or spatula and stirring occasionally. When beef is starting to brown, but not quite done yet, add garlic, onion, cumin, chile powder, and oregano. Continue breaking up the meat and stirring until meat is cooked through and spices are fragrant, a total of about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
Remove cooled chiles from plastic bag and peel, discarding the skins (the skins will slide off easily). Don’t worry if little bits of skin or char remain in place. Lay each chile on a cutting board and make a 2-inch vertical slice, into but through the chile. Pull out the seeds (you don’t have to be perfect about it) and transfer the chiles to the prepared parchment, cut side up.
Stir the cheese into the cooled ground beef. Stuff a few spoonfuls of beef/cheese mixture into each chile. Bake chiles for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and filling is hot all the way through. Serve with warm ranchero sauce, radishes, avocado slices, sour cream, and cilantro.
Makes about 2 cups
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
3 c. diced garden-ripe tomatoes (or Muir Glen canned fire-roasted chopped or crushed tomatoes)
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ancho chile powder
In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. When melted and hot, add the yellow onion and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeno and sauté for two more minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, oregano, cumin, and chile powder.
Simmer sauce, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt (if you used fresh tomatoes, you’ll need more salt than if you used canned). Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers.