Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Chile Rellenos

Chile Rellenos. By Liddie Martinez
Espanola Valley
Something magical happens in New Mexico when Labor Day nears. People slow down their hectic pace to enjoy a life transformed.
When the Sangre de Cristo Mountains sport swaying golden headdresses sweeping across turquoise skies and our lungs fill with the intoxicating scent of roasting green chile- we are altered. We are overcome by its spell; hypnotized into smiling more often, breaking into song and yearning to find opportunities to gaze at green chile tumbling in cylindrical roasters conjuring up remembrances.
We are serious about green chile in my family. Mom was the go to caterer for all family functions when I was a kid, so, we purchased eight to ten sacks of green chile and got busy roasting, peeling and packing to put up enough for whatever wedding, baptism, funeral, landmark birthday and holiday gatherings the year had in store for us. Our hands would burn for days on end but the stories told and laughter remembered from those times still rings loudly in my memory and my life has been blessed because I now carry on the tradition.
This year I planted Big Jim seed with the anticipation of growing chile specifically for Chile Rellenos. I had never grown chile. On our farm we produce three things, grass fed beef, farm fresh eggs and corn for chicos. I began my quest to learn all I could about the art of growing chile in early February and talked to anyone who had done it before and was willing to offer advice. The chile relleno chile needs to be long enough, wide enough and meaty enough to hold up to stuffing and frying without breaking, or losing its cache. I coaxed my seeds to sprout and babied my seedlings under grow lights singing old rancheras to them so that they, too, could remember old New Mexico. One of the most beautiful rellenos I have ever seen was in Mexico. I spent ten years working on the establishment of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail and was fortunate to travel to every community along the route.
Some years ago I was invited by the Governor of Durango, Mexico to dine at the palace where they served us Rellenos Nogadas – a celebratory dish of meat stuffed poblano chile dressed with a white walnut sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds. It was an amazing dish, a delight to behold and an explosion of texture and flavor but, even then, I thought only of my mom’s rellenos. Our New Mexico chile seed arrived centuries ago on old indigenous trade routes that eventually were incorporated into the Camino Real during Spanish colonization in the 1500s. It is delightful to find traces of our New Mexico history visible in other countries reminding us of our connection and shared heritage. My version is derived from my mom’s recipe: A medium hot chile stuffed with a finely chopped mixture of aromatics, herbs and cheese that is bathed in a fluffy egg batter and fried crisp. It is a family favorite and the filling can be modified to suite your tastes. In this version, I use blue corn flour so it is truly a gluten free dish.
Chile Rellenos
6 Green Chiles, roasted and peeled
4 eggs, separated
3⁄4 Cup *Blue Corn Flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. pepper
1 cup peanut or vegetable oil
Prepare chile for stuffing by cutting a small slit and removing seeds and veins carefully without tearing the flesh. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.
1⁄2 cup white Colby/Jack cheese, grated
1⁄2 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
2 green onions, sliced thinly including green tops
1⁄2 sweet pepper, diced finely
1 Tablespoon Cilantro, chopped finely
1⁄4 tsp. salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients and set aside.
Beat egg whites to a stiff peak. In a small bowl whisk egg yolks with salt and pepper and fold into egg whites leaving small puffs of meringue in the batter. In a cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat.
Stuff each chile careful not to over stuff. You should be able to bring the chile flesh together and seal.
Sprinkle blue corn flour onto a shallow dish and gently place the chile on the flour. Using a spoon, sprinkle top of chile slightly with flour then transfer to batter and dip to coat. Place in hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Serve on a puddle of hot red chile.
*Keep in mind that the blue corn flour coating is there so that the egg batter will adhere to the chile, otherwise, it will slide right off. You don’t want a heavy coating; just a light sprinkle will do the trick so that your relleno will be light, airy and crisp.
Green Chiles. Photo by Liddie Martinez
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