June 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

Simply the Best

Peppers pop with flavor in baked chilies rellenos

Baked chilies rellenos can be made with or without the pepper's skin. (Steven Raichlen)

I never thought I would like chilies rellenos. I have an aversion to green bell peppers and therefore was never a fan of stuffed peppers, but I soon discovered that chilies rellenos is an entirely different and delicious dish.

When I sampled the traditional Mexican dish of stuffed poblano peppers years ago for the first time, they were homemade by a Hispanic cook and were simply wonderful. Later, when I ordered them in a Mexican restaurant, they were just ho-hum and because they were fried, I decided they weren’t worth the calories. So I basically just removed them from my list — especially since I thought I could never make them as good as what I first tried.

Then I found Steven Raichlen’s version in his newest book, “Man Made Meals,” and they looked so wonderful I knew it was time to try making them myself.

I like the traditional method that calls for roasting and peeling the peppers, a process that adds an interesting smoke flavor but also doubles the prep time. If you’re so inclined and have the time, here’s how: Char the peppers over a hot fire on your grill, directly on the burner of your stove, or under the broiler. The skins should be blistered and black. Place the peppers on a cutting board and let them cool completely, then scrape off the burned skins with a knife.

Charring gives the peppers a smoky flavor and eliminates the skin, which some people (not me) don’t like. You can use poblano or Anaheim peppers, both of which are easy to find in most produce departments. I prefer the poblano.

Baked Chilies Rellenos

Recipe from Man Made Meals by Steven Raichlen

4 large poblano peppers, or 8 Anaheim peppers
2 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium-size onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts or whole pine nuts
¼ cup raisins or currants
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 can (about 15 ounces) pinto, black or kidney beans, drained in a colander, rinsed and drained again
3 cups coarsely grated cheddar or Jack cheese or crumbled goat cheese or Cotija cheese, divided
Coarse salt
1 cup crumbled tortilla chips or bread crumbs (optional)

If you are using poblano peppers, cut each in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and ribs. If you are using Anaheim peppers or Hatch chiles, make a lengthwise slit in each. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds and ribs.

Heat 1 ½ tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, walnuts, raisins, cumin and black pepper and cook until the onion is browned, stirring with a wooden spoon, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the cilantro after about 2 minutes.

Stir the beans into the onion mixture and cook them until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the bean mixture cool to room temperature, then stir in 2 cups of the cheese. Taste for seasoning, adding more black pepper and/or salt, if necessary, to taste; the bean filling should be highly seasoned.

Spoon the bean filling into the peppers or chiles and arrange them in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese on top. If you are using tortilla chips or bread crumbs, sprinkle them on top. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over everything. The stuffed peppers can be prepared to this stage up to a day ahead and refrigerated, covered.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the stuffed peppers or chiles until they are browned on top, the sides have softened, and the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serves 4.

Per serving: 722 calories; 50 g fat (21 g saturated fat; 62 percent calories from fat); 46 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 89 mg cholesterol; 839 mg sodium; 31 g protein; 9 g fiber.