It all starts with The Abuelas.
Socorro, my social, fun-loving Mexican grandmother was always fond of God, nature, family, dancing, music, traditional home cooking, and surprisingly, Denny’s and Dairy Queen. She was a rancher’s daughter, raised on the back of a horse, most likely wielding a Smith and Wesson revolver- at least that’s how I imagine her youth. I can still hear her laugh, sassy remarks to grandpa, and the musical tone and cadence of her voice. I can still feel her hugs, especially the second tight squeezes she’d always give, and her warm hand in mine as she told me how much I reminded her of herself. Summers on the New Mexico hacienda were always active despite the dry heat and terrifying monsoons. How my cousins and I would terrorize the property! A chicken coop turned into a hiding place, a greenhouse into an artificial swimming pool clubhouse, grandpa’s junk and tools became a rickety jungle gym, and the piano an instrument for exploratory sounds. We’d chase one another through the hallway, running circles around the indoor patio and living room until one of the boys was harangued and smacked upside the head by the loving matriarch. With so many memories on those ten southern desert acres, soon to be sold, the ones I cherish the most were the times friends and families gathered around the dining room table, shoulder to shoulder, retelling comical tales about one another, and eating brightly colored, flavorful chile dishes with grandpa’s voice thundering above the chatter, “Where’s the tortillas!”
Near the California coast, in a little Cerritos cottage adjoined by other cottages, lived my cynical, index finger shaking great grandmother, America. Serious, careful not to have too much fun, God fearing, yet with witch doctoring tendencies, an abhorrence for filth, especially on my neck and knees, America ruled with a soft iron fist. Although seemingly rigid, and forever tsk tsking, she could always be subdued with pretty things: the fragrances of expensive perfumes, shiny genuine gold jewelry, porcelain elephants (trunks up, of course), and a great granddaughter in frilly girl’s clothing, for once, with smooth tamed hair. Despite the fact I had been chased, on several occasions, with a broom and what I’m sure were Spanish profanities, asked “are you on dope” while in college, and had my head doused with eucalyptus oil every time I sneezed, I knew my great grandma loved me. She never uttered those three words because she never needed to – her cooking said it all. America began her career as a cook for wealthy families by the age of ten in San Juan, Puerto Rico. However abrasive she could be was negated by the carefully and lovingly prepared meals she’d place on the table at any given time of day. Watching that woman cook was nothing short of a magic show! As I got older, I would sit in her tiny roasted garlic scented kitchen taking notes while she chopped and brewed, trying to prescribe measurements to her pinches and pours, writing half of the ingredients in Spanish, her natural choice of reference.
To me, Socorro and America remain alive and vibrant on Casa del Norte as well as in my travels. They exist in the breath I give to my laughter, the words in my sassy remarks, and slanted smiles resembling feigned annoyance. They are with me in the garden, whispering memories of traditional dishes and complimentary ingredients, and they are the heart and soul I put into much of my cooking.
I find ways to combine the New Mexican and Puerto Rican flavors of the two most influential women in my life, plus some sass of my own, because both of those feisty women would’ve expected it.
This year we’ve had a garden chile boom, which include my favorites, poblanos originating from Pueblo, Mexico, and Big Jims, created at New Mexico State University. Both prolific varieties have high quality taste, mild spiciness, and are ideal for stuffing.
Like my abuelas, this recipe calls for a lot of spontaneity, and most of the ingredients are measured by taste. I hope you treat this as an idea for expanding your own culinary Mexi-Rican creation, keeping your abuelas in mind, no matter where they are from.
Chiles for Main Dish
- 3 poblano chiles, roasted and skinned*
- 3 Big Jim chiles, roasted and skinned (You could substitute with 6 or a combo of poblanos, Big Jim’s, Anaheim’s, and/or red bell peppers)
- 1 ½ pound of ground turkey meat
- 2-3 tbsps diced Spanish green olives with pimentos
- a stalk of green onion diced
- ¼ cup fresh pureed tomato
- 1-3 minced serranos or jalapeno peppers, unroasted with skin on (depending on how much heat you want)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 sofrito cubes (equals ¼ cup)**
- shredded cheddar and jack mix of cheeses (I use Trader Joe’s Mexican Blend)
- stewed tomatoes in garlic and olive oil
- fresh cilantro
- a pinch of coriander seeds
- chopped white onion
- roasted green and red chiles (serranos and/or jalapenos)
- dash of cumin
- dash of garlic powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- All-purpose flour for dredging
- 3 eggs, separated
- 1 tbsp water
- 3 tbsps flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
* Roast whole chiles until blistered and skin peels off. For small recipes such as this one, I usually roast my chiles on the stovetop until the skin blisters all over. With burners on high, carefully rotate chiles with sturdy tongs, then place to the side on a damp towel until cool enough to touch. Leave the stuffing chiles whole and intact as you peel the skin off by hand, with a napkin, or paper bag. However, be careful peeling serranos and jalapeños by hand since these can be hot and leave your fingers with a burning sensation throughout the day. Advice from my own experience, use gloves.
**You can make your own sofrito by clicking on my link for the recipe, or you may be able to find a bottle of sofrito at your local Spanish supermarket.
***For the salsa, your measurements depend on how much you want to make. This is a great chip dipping salsa when cooled in the fridge.
Roast all of the chiles, skin, and set aside. Keep the stuffing chiles intact with seeds, stems, and all.
Make the Salsa Sauce:
Prepare the tomatoes by giving them a good rinse and taking off the stems.
Add a swirl of olive oil and crushed garlic to a pan. Heat on medium high until garlic simmers. Stir the garlic around so it gets into the oil well.
Add the whole tomatoes and simmer until the bottoms brown and the bottom half of the tomatoes are stewed.
In a blender, add the stewed tomatoes and juices, cilantro, chopped white onion, chiles, coriander seeds, cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
Puree until all of the ingredients are well blended. Taste to determine which ingredients you need to add more of.
Once the salsa is to your liking, set aside in a container.
Make the chile stuffing:
In a bowl, mix the turkey meat, olives, green onion, pureed tomato, minced chiles, and a dash of salt and pepper.
In a pan, heat up a few drops of olive oil. Add the sofrito and simmer until hot.
Add the turkey meat mixture to the pan and stir continuously on medium heat until juices are absorbed, and meat is slightly browned and cooked thoroughly.
Set the meat aside and cool to about room temperature.
Stuff the chiles:
Make a slit on the side of each chile and stuff each one with the (room temperature) meat and cheese. Avoid over stuffing your chiles or else they may tear apart.
Dredge the chiles in flour and set aside.
Prepare the frying batter:
Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Beat the yolks with the water, 3 tbsps flour, and salt until thick and creamy. Fold the yolks into the whites.
Heat up 2-3 inches of oil in a big enough frying pan.
Dip the chiles in the mixture and fry until they are a golden brown.
Keep fried chiles on a frying or drying rack until ready to serve.
Prepare to amaze yourself and the lucky people you’ll be indulging. Serve your chiles rellenos on a colorful platter, slathered in the salsa, sprinkled with cheese, and a bit of chopped cilantro and onion. A side of chips, guac, and your left over salsa would be devine. Add some salted fried tostones in there, and you’ve got a real authentico Mexi-Rican meal!