Working as a personal chef can be awfully lonely. I typically cook at home in my own kitchen with the anesthetizing voice of Ira Glass in the background, but this week I am cooking at the home of my longtime clients. This means that every time I so much as shuffle my feet, I risk stepping on one or more vertically challenged dogs. I love having the dogs to keep me company, but as soon as the pork hit the pan this morning, they were rooting around like blind anteaters with no regard for kitchen safety.
I must say, the aromas from this dish were exceptionally delightful. There is something about cinnamon, tomatoes, and meat together that really makes your mouth water. These stuffed and bakes chiles are by no means a 30 minute meal, but they have outstanding flavor worth reproducing again and again.
Stuffed and Baked Chiles:
8 long green chiles, each 6-8” long (or small poblanos, if you don’t mind a little heat)
1 pound ground pork (or beef, chicken or even form tofu)
generous pinch of kosher salt (use all of your fingers!)
1 small white onion, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 can diced tomatoes (I love Muir Glen’s Fire Roasted Tomatoes)
1/2 C. slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 C. raisins or dried currants
2 scallions, light and dark green parts only, chopped
1/2 C. cotija or dry jack cheese, crumbled or grated, plus extra for garnish
Roast the chiles on a very hot grill or over the flames of your gas stove (on med-low) until blistered and blackened almost everywhere. If you have never done this before, here is a basic guide. Place the blistered chiles in a paper bag or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and cool for 30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare your filling.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the pork, sprinkle with salt and saute until just cooked through. Some crispy, well-browned bits are desirable, so don’t stir it too often. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion and saute for 3 or 4 minutes until barely starting to color. Add the garlic and saute another minute or two. Add the cinnamon and stir together thoroughly to distribute. Pour in your tomatoes with all of their liquid, scraping up any browned bits off of the bottom of the pan. The mixture will come to a simmer quickly. Add the raisins and reduce the heat so that the sauce is at a low bubble.
While the sauce simmers, toast the almonds in the oven for 6-10 minutes, watching carefully. You want them lightly browned, and they go from lightly browned to burnt quickly.
Once the sauce has simmered for about 10 minutes, add your meat back to the pan, stir and set aside to cool while you peel the peppers.
Peeling peppers can be a little bit tricky. Don’t be in a hurry, just gently slip the blistered skin away from the flesh, doing your best not to tear the pepper. If you are having a tough time, run the pepper under cool water while you slip the skin off. Once the peppers are skinned, cut a slit down one side (some you may already have torn, which is fine), and remove the seeds, many of which are clustered up at the stem. Running water may help in this endeavor, too. Pat the peppers dry with paper towels and place them cut side up in a well greased, rectangular baking dish.
Add your crumbled cheese, almonds, and chopped scallions to the filling and stir to combine. Scoop 3-4 large spoonfuls of filling into each pepper, spreading it down to the tip and up near the stem with your fingers. You want the peppers nice and full. Once all the peppers are stuffed, sprinkle them with a little extra cheese and cover with foil.
Bake for 15 minutes covered, remove the foil, and bake for 15 minutes more.
Serve with a jicama slaw with plenty of cilantro.