Last week we sent you off to enjoy your weekend with our Fajita Corn Chip Stuffed Portabellos, one of many ways to pack more than one tasty food or flavor into a well-rounded stuffed dish. My favorite of which, I have to say, is actually the chile relleno (sorry, ‘shrooms!).
Chiles rellenos are chile peppers filled with a mixture of cheese, meat, spices, and sometimes fruit, seeds, or nuts. Many times they’re made with anchos or poblanos, but can also be Hatch chiles, Anaheims, even jalapeños. They’re typically either baked or fried after stuffing.
Perhaps the most beloved chile relleno is the chile en nogada, a dish from Puebla associated with Mexican independence and made with the three colors of the flag—a green stuffed poblano topped with white walnut cream sauce and red pomegranate seeds. The sweet potato-stuffed anchos I made for Thanksgiving are a Tex-Mex spin on the classic Mexican preparation.
I admit that I occasionally had to suppress a giggle when I was working at a Mexican restaurant and guests would ask about our “stuffed chile rellenos,” which translates to “stuffed stuffed chiles.” That’s all relleno means—and to be sure, many things aside from chile peppers can be stuffed and cooked.
Its closest cousins are probably the jalapeño popper and the stuffed pepper (as in bell pepper), which are both technically still chiles rellenos. Next in line would be stuffed avocados, stuffed squash, or stuffed mushrooms. Closest to my heart is stuffed cabbage, which is the family dish on both my mom’s and my dad’s side. Dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) are a close relative.
And those are just the veggies. Pastas can be stuffed (dumplings, ravioli, tortellini, cannelloni) as can pastries (danishes, eclairs, donuts, cannolis) breads (calzones, cheese rolls), and meats (Thanksgiving turkey, carpetbagger steak, stuffed chops, and chicken breasts).
There must be a reason that many cultures and cuisines have so diligently found stuff to stuff. Stuffing is a great way to layer ingredients, mix up textures, and seal lots of different flavors in with each other.
Many stuffed dishes will have big flavor and texture contrasts between the stuffing, the stuffed thing, and the sauce—crispy, creamy, spicy, sweet—all working together at different levels. Stuffing is also a natural way to create a flavorful little cooking package that’s easily dipped into a batter or packed into a baking dish and served.
A couple of tips for making rellenos:
- Make sure your stuffing includes some form of starch, like rice, bread crumbs, crumbled chips, or croutons, which will absorb the juices released as your dish cooks and keep it from getting mushy.
- Don’t overstuff. Especially when using a cheesy or otherwise rich stuffing, it’s easy to overpower the other flavors of the dish, so a little goes a long way.
- When rolling, tucking or otherwise packing up your relleno, a toothpick works great to seal it shut while it cooks. If you don’t have any handy, try breaking a skewer into small pieces, or using an inch or two of uncooked spaghetti.