My obsession with chile rellenos lives on – it is how I measure every Mexican, Tex-Mex, or Southwestern restaurant that offers the dish on their menu, and if they don’t – shame on them! When I return from a trip, within a day or two my car finds its way to Great Mex in Costa Mesa for a chile relleno fix or Anepalco’s for Chile en Nogales. When in Las Vegas – it’s Bobby Flay style at Mesa Grill, when in Chicago – I head to Frontera Grill for some Rick Bayless chile relleno satisfaction. When I was in Austin, I found myself at the Pioneer Woman’s party which happened to be at La Condessa - their chile relleno was filled with butternut squash and quinoa and topped with Manchego – it looked like a blob in the dark, but tasted sublime. When in Shanghai or Paris, it’s nada.
At home I have experimented with healthier, not fried, less cheese, more vegetable centric versions of the chile relleno with much success. While “everything is better with cheese” is true for many folks, I like chile rellenos because of the smoky chiles whose taste comes through better when not smothered under a blanket of cheese. Plus, much as we enjoy cheese, it is one of the “occasional indulgences” when adhering to a low-sodium, heart healthy diet.
Chile Relleno with Butternut Squash, Quinoa and Manchego Cheese at La Condessa, Austin
I riffed on the idea of using quinoa and added diced carrots, corn, and pine nuts to amp up the flavor, texture and colors for an appetizing, satisfying, vegetarian, guilt-less take that has a permanent place in my meal rotation and ongoing chile relleno love affair. Try it for Meatless Monday or any day when you desire comfort food that’s healthy and nutritious – a fresh green salad on the side is an excellent accompaniment to these lovely chiles.
My secret ingredient for a subtle smoky kick – Head Ancho vinegar from Chaparral Gardens, made with Anchos, Habaneros, and Bells all grown on the farm.
Quinoa-Stuffed Chile Relleno
A not-so cheesy Chile Relleno where diced carrots, corn, and pine nuts amp up the flavor, texture and colors for an appetizing, satisfying, vegetarian, gluten free, guilt-less twist on a Mexican favorite.
4 large poblano (pasilla) chiles, grilled
1-1/2 cup cooked tri-color quinoa*
1 tablespoon Chaparral Gardens Head Ancho vinegar
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 large carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 cup frozen sweet corn*
3/4 cup shredded goat’s milk cheddar cheese
*Note – I used tri-color quinoa from Trader Joe’s but red or regular quinoa can be substituted. Leftover grilled corn works great in this recipe.
1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Actually, I find that using less water that the directions call for yields fluffier quinoa – I use a ratio of 1 cup of quinoa to 1 3/4 cup water. Meanwhile, heat your grill to medium high and grill the poblano chiles.Turning until all sides are blackened. Put in a paper or plastic bag to steam. When cool enough to handle, remove the charred skin, stem and seeds.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium skilled and sauté the carrot and onion with chile flakes until softened, about 3 minutes. Mix in the garlic and cook for another minute. In a medium bowl sprinkle the quinoa with a tablespoon of Head Ancho vinegar and add the carrots and garlic.
3. Wipe the skillet clean, toast the pine nuts over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside. Brown the corn in the dry skillet for about 2 minutes and add it to the quinoa mixture.
4. Oil or spray a medium baking dish. Place the poblano chiles in the dish and fill each one with the quinoa mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and pine nuts, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.