I love Mexican cuisine. I can enjoy it in Texas of course, but also in Lebanon where I had an outstanding Mexican five-course meal in Deir EL-Kamar one summer, during a gala event; a Mexican chef had been flown in especially for the occasion and created an amazing spread of chile rellenos, mole, ceviches, etc.
I grabbed a few poblano peppers at the farmer’s market and my mind was set: I was going to make chile rellenos, Lebanese-style of course.
The poblanos are peeled and seeded and stuffed with roasted green wheat AKA freekeh; if you don’t know what freekeh is, it is a very old (2 thousand year-old) method of roasting young green wheat; it used to be our main grain in Lebanon as well as Syria, Palestine and Jordan; nowadays, it is a foodie’s dream grain, so nutritious, it blows brown rice et al out of the water! as you cook it, the smokey flavor will waft out of the pot ( reminding me of being in the fields with the faint smell of goat dung); however, when it is cooked, the flavor and texture is so rustic and plain good, you soon become enamored with it; who needs meat when you can eat freekeh instead?
I wanted to use freekeh because I find the traditional picadillo stuffing or cheese stuffing a bit too fatty for my taste. The freekeh is rustic and can easily replace meat; served on the traditional tomato sauce and accompanied by a light and creamy yogurt sauce laced with a mint or cilantro pesto, instead of the Mexican crema. I don’t think my version would offend my Mexican friends!
- 4 poblano chile peppers
- olive oil, as needed
- salt, pepper, other spices of your liking (I used Aleppo pepper, a dash of cinnamon, allspice)
- 1 cup of roasted green wheat or freekeh, rinsed and cleaned thoroughly of all debris
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 cup of assorted nuts, chopped coarsely
- 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt
- a pinch of dry mint or a tablespoon of fresh chopped cilantro
- vegetable oil for frying as needed
- tomato sauce made with one fried chopped onion, some garlic, a pound of chopped tomatoes, a dash of thyme (optional), cooked on the stove for 30 minutes then pureed in a blender
- 4 eggs, separated
- all-purpose flour as needed (to coat the peppers and to use in the batter)
- dash of cream of tartar for the egg whites
First step: Cook the roasted green wheat or freekeh
- Heat some olive oil in a pot, add the chopped onion and when golden, add the freekeh; stir to moisten all the grains for about 3 minutes and season; add 2 cups of water or stock, cover the pot for about 20 minutes or until small holes appear on the surface; uncover the pot, let some more water evaporate, stir again and set aside, adjusting the seasoning.
Second step: Toast the nuts in a 300F oven till golden; add some raisins if you like. Cool the nuts and mix with freekeh.
Third step: Broil the peppers until the skin is blistered and black all around. Take a plastic bag and pour a couple of tablespoons of oil in it then drop the peppers in the bag; close the bag tightly and cover with a kitchen towel for about 30 minutes. Open the bag and skin the peppers and remove all seeds, trying to keep their shape as much as possible.
Fourth step: Fill the peppers with the freekeh mixture, without getting the peppers too full.
- Fifth step: Place the egg yolks and the egg whites in 2 separate bowls; beat the whites first with a dash of cream of tartar, until they form soft but firm peaks. Now beat the yolks until they get thick and lemon-colored and add to the yolks about 3 tablespoons of flour, mixing the flour in well until the mixture is smooth.
- Start adding the whites to the yolks gradually, folding them in with a spatula in an up-and-down motion, gently.
- Place a cup of flour in a plate and coat the peppers with the flour all around.
- Heat enough oil in a deep skillet to reach up to about one inch; when the oil is very hot (365F) take each pepper and using a spoon to hold it coat it with the batter all around. Drop the pepper in the hot oil turning it around after 3 minutes when it is golden on one side.
- Remove the pepper and place on a paper towel; keep in a 225F (warm) oven until ready to serve.
When ready to serve the chilis, heat the tomato sauce, place the peppers on the sauce; serve with a small bowl of yogurt.
NOTE: You can make a quick mint or cilantro pesto by heating a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet, adding a tablespoon of dried mint or cilantro, letting sizzle for 30 seconds and swirling it at serving time on the yogurt.
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