Chile Relleno Casserole

Chile Relleno Casserole 150 150 David Rosengarten

chile-relleno-Dan Goldberg

One of the great Tex-Mex dishes is Chile Rellenos–luscious poblano chiles, stuffed with cheese or meat, dipped in batter and deep-fried. In New Mexico, home cooks don’t usually go to all that trouble. Why should they? They have an alternative that may be even more delicious, and is certainly easier to prepare. Roll-ups of roasted poblano chiles, stuffed with meat, get covered with cheese and a batter-like mixture in a casserole. You pop it in the oven…and 45 minutes later you have an incredible Southwestern spin on comfort food.

Makes 6 main-course servings

6 large poblano chiles
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 cup tomato purée
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
1/4 teaspoon supermarket chili powder
2 3/4 cups shredded cheese (see NOTE)
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
Tabasco sauce
Cotija cheese, optional
Chile Sauce (warm) for topping, optional (see NOTE)

1. Blacken the poblano chiles: stick a fork in the stem end of each chile, then place the chiles directly over the gas flames on your range. Turn frequently, and roast until the chiles are charred on all sides (it will take 5-8 minutes.) If you don’t have gas, you can alternatively put them (minus the forks) under a broiler, turn occasionally with tongs until they’re charred. When chiles are done, place in a paper bag, or in a large bowl covered in plastic wrap, and let sit for 15-20 minutes.

2. When cool enough to handle, peel the chiles carefully with your fingers. Cut a little off the top and bottom of each chile. Make one slit up the side of each chile, and spread each chile out (each one becomes a large rectangular piece.) De-vein and seed the chiles. Set aside.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil. When the pan is hot, add the onion. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring often. Next add the beef, and more oil if necessary. Cook until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato purée, cumin, oregano and chili powder. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until most of the liquid is gone, stirring often. Check again for seasoning and set aside to cool.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8 x 8-inch casserole dish.

5. When the beef has cooled, add 1 3/4 cups of the cheese. Stir to combine. Lay chiles flat on counter and top with beef mixture. Each chile, depending on size, should take about 5-6 tablespoons of filling (about 1/3-cup). Mound the filling into an oval towards one end of each chile. Then roll the flesh of the chile over the meat, towards the other end, until you have a neatly ctuffed cylinder. Carefully place them in the oiled casserole, seam side down.

6. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, flour, and eggs. Season with salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to taste. Sprinkle the stuffed chiles with 1/2 cup of cheese. Pour the batter over everything, and sprinkle the final 1/2 cup of cheese on top. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until golden. Sprinkle with Cotija cheese (if desired), and serve with enchilada sauce on the side (if desired.)

CHEESE NOTE: You can use the same supermarket product for this dish that I call for in the cheese enchiladas: the 4-Cheese Mexican Shredded Cheese by Sargento (a blend of Monterey Jack, Mild Cheddar, Queso Quesadilla and Asadero cheeses) hits it just right. If you can’t find it, a home-made blend of grated Cheddar and Monterey Jack will work well.

SAUCE NOTE: This casserole is delicious without any sauce–but a warm red chile sauce really sends it into orbit. If you follow steps 1-5 of this Cheese Enchilada recipe, you’ll have the perfect sauce for this dish.

Cheese Enchiladas
They do serve enchiladas in Mexico, but they certainly don’t have the centrality there that they have in the world of Tex-Mex cuisine. You might even say that enchiladas–tortillas, usually corn, stuffed and baked in a casserole with sauce–are the backbone of most Tex-Mex menus in the U.S. What would the standard combination plate be without them? Another difference is in the enchiladas themselves: the American ones tend to be a lot saucier, and a whole lot cheesier. In fact, when people criticize Tex-Mex as “melted cheese on everything”–which makes it a lot heavier than Mexican regional cuisine–it is often the cheese enchilada that takes the heat. Well, fine…if you eat nothing but cheese-packed Tex-Mex food, the criticism is valid. But if you hanker only every once in a while for a bubbly, gooey casserole with lots of delicious cheese mingling with a delicious chile sauce…why not satisfy your craving? When my hankering hits, I go all the way and make sure my enchilada is stuffed with cheese as well! Chicken and beef enchiladas are good, but nothing hits the comfort food spot like a cheese enchilada. To approximate Tex-Mex restaurant conditions, serve enchiladas with Mexican Rice, Refried Beans, sour cream, and a variety of salsas. A margarita wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either.

Makes 6 main-course servings

For the chile sauce:
4 large ancho chiles (about 2 ounces altogether)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup tomato purée
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3/4 teaspoon oregano (preferably Mexican)

8 cups shredded cheese (see NOTE)
12 corn tortillas
oil for frying
1/2 cup sliced scallions for garnish
grated cotija cheese (optional)

1. Make the chile sauce: Rinse, stem, devein and seed the chiles. (You may want to wear rubber gloves for this). Cut them open. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Toast the chiles in the skillet, holding them down with a pair of tongs to make sure the chiles lie flat. Cook, turning, until they are fragrant, a little blistered, and smoking slightly. It will take about 2-3 minutes per side.

2. Meanwhile bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Place the toasted chiles in a bowl, and pour in the boiling water to cover. Let soak for 1/2 an hour, until chiles are soft, turning on occasion to ensure even soaking.

3. Toast the cumin seeds in a small skillet for about 30 seconds, or until they’re fragrant. Do not leave them on the heat too long or they will burn. Grind them until fine in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Set aside.

4. Heat a skillet over medium heat; add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When hot, add the onions, and cook until they begin to soften, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic. Cook onions and garlic together until soft and light-brown, stirring often to prevent sticking, about 10-12 minutes total. (Add more oil if necessary).

5. Drain the chiles, keeping the soaking liquid. In a blender, add the chiles, 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid, the tomato purée, chicken stock and onion/garlic mixture. Purée until smooth. Strain sauce into a saucepan, pressing down on the solids to extract all of the liquid. Add the ground cumin and oregano. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring on occasion to prevent sticking. If too thick, add more stock or soaking liquid to thin out. Once you’ve reached the desired consistency, season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn off heat and set aside. (Makes about 4 cups of sauce.)

6. Assemble the enchiladas: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

7. Ladle a small amount of sauce into a 9″ x 13″ pan, just enough to film the bottom.

8. In a heavy skillet, heat a 1/2-inch of oil until it ripples. Fry a tortilla in the oil for a few seconds on each side until limp. Do no let get crisp. Drain and proceed with the rest of the tortillas.

9. Ladle a small amount of enchilada sauce onto a large plate. Dip a tortilla in the sauce on each side, then fill with 1/2 cup of cheese. Roll up tortilla, and place in the pan, seam side down. Repeat until all 12 are done. Add any remaining sauce from the plate back into saucepan, then top enchiladas in the pan with remaining sauce and final 2 cups of cheese. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is fully melted, and everything is heated through. You may pass the pan under a broiler if you like the top to get a little brown.

10. Divide the tortillas among 6 dinner plates, garnish with chopped scallions,and, if desired, cotija cheese. Serve immediately.

NOTE: It’s hard to find the blend of cheeses that gives just the right firm chew to the enchilada stuffing. I have found that a supermarket product–the 4-Cheese Mexican Shredded Cheese by Sargento (a blend of Monterey Jack, Mild Cheddar, Queso Quesadilla and Asadero cheeses) hits it just right. The product is distributed nationally…but if you can’t find it, you can make your own combination of shredded cheeses using Monterey Jack, Cheddar (I’d go with a sharper one), Mozzarella, etc. I did discover some years ago that Danish Fontina too melts very nicely in Tex-Mex dishes.

Photo by Dan Goldberg,

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