I always forget the amount of work that goes into making chiles rellenos from scratch. But then, upon consumption, the tasty, zesty flavor seems to make the effort trifling in comparison to the reward. Carla and I are visiting AZ with my folks this week, so chiles rellenos seemed to be a perfect dinner to compliment the saguaro forest surrounding us.
The markets in AZ don't have a much wider selection of chiles than the Wegmans in PA, but what they do have is of amazing quality (and potency!) I've been on a lamb-kick for about 3-4 weeks now, and the grocery store had beautiful, freshly ground lamb, which seemed to be perfect filling for the glossy, bulging poblano chiles in my cart. To compliment the full-flavored lamb, I decided on a filling of wild rice, red wine vinegar, cilantro, lime, and queso fresco (to bind everything together).
To start, the poblanos got roasted over a gas stove to blister the skin. At home I usually broil them, but this house has a high-performance propane stove that did the trick. Once blackened and crispy, the poblanos went into a paper bag for 5 minutes. In the bag, they slowly steamed and the blackened skins flaked off from the soft and now-pliable meat of the pepper. The skin is edible, but very thick and rather saran-wrap like. The only time you really leave it on is when you dry them (but then they're called guajillo peppers, not poblanos, once dried)
The filling was pretty straight forward. As the rice boiled, I sauteed some onions, garlic, and lamb in a skillet, then poured everything into a workbowl and added my vinegar, lime juice, salt, queso fresco, and cilantro. I decided to use both red wine vinegar and lime juice with the intentions that red wine vinegar heightens the inherent lamby-ness of the meat, while the lime would brighten the deep flavors of the lamb and wild rice.
Stuffing is pretty straight forward: make a vertical slit down the length of the pepper, then cut out the inner membranes and mass of seeds at the top. Once nicely plumped, but not overflowing, I sealed the openings with wooden skewers and rolled them in blue tortilla flour. The peppers got a quick roll in a hot skillet to slightly brown and crisp the floured outside, then went into a 375 F oven for 30 min. In the last 10 minutes I crumbled more queso fresco over them, and then topped with toasted almond flakes. I love almonds in my mole sauces and thought they'd add a nutty crunch that would play along with the deep, nutty flavor of the wild rice.
The first bite of these peppers was something of a shock. In PA, poblanos are little more than earthy-tasting bell peppers. These poblanos carried a rather clear cut of heat toward the caps, where some wayward seeds still clung to the inside. Still very tasty, but a much fiercer creature than what we get in Appalachia. Otherwise, the flavor of the lamb went well with the rice, almonds and cheese. The cilantro was nice with the lamb, but a combination I've never had before and I something I haven't quite made my mind up about. Clearly, further tasting and testing is required!