When you live in San Diego, it’s not difficult to find great Mexican food as long as you’re willing to avoid the more obvious chains. Each neighborhood seems to have a local favorite and as much as many can agree that there are special places tough to compete with, sometimes, close to home is just better — especially when dinnertime is approaching and the resident cook isn’t in the mood to fire up the stove. My husband and I might email one other on a day like that with a question about dinner.
Me: Not sure I’m into cooking tonight.
Him: Want me to pick something up?
Me: Smack your lips together and tell me what sounds good.
Him: Not Chinese.
Him: Carnitas plate?
Although this wasn’t necessarily an every week event, it was very nearly that.
If you asked me what I miss most about the change in eating habits I made four months ago, I’d say I miss Mexican food — not chocolate, not pasta, or bread. Mexican food from the neighborhood favorite we call Los Dos on Garnet in Pacific Beach across the street from Albertson’s is what I miss. It’s the most tiny place you can imagine, barely large enough for more than a couple of people to stand inside to place an order, and an enormous stainless steel range I swear the shop was built around.
It isn’t that one taco shop’s menu is different from any of the dozens of other shops within a reasonable driving distance — it’s more about how each prepares those items. The salsa, or guacamole — and especially the refried beans — many will say the particular flavor of typical menu items are what makes a shop their favorite. I miss the carnitas from Los Dos, a plate of food I can smell the minute my husband walks in the door with it. Wrapped in foil and filled with little mounds of shredded pork, rice, beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo just waiting to be loaded into a piping hot flour tortilla, smothered in both red and green salsa, and then folded like a burrito. Oh, my. So very, very delicious. Although I rarely finished the entire plate, I routinely failed at not eating that second flour tortilla all by itself — the giant sized version.
Each time after dinner, with my stomach so uncomfortably full I swore I’d never order another carnitas plate, it was only a matter of weeks before I’d find myself in the same situation, feeling miserable. I don’t miss that feeling — something that comes more from overeating in general. And because my success rate at eating only a portion of that plate — about half — was so poor, I decided doing without was the best way to go.
So how have I compensated for not eating something I used to enjoy so much? By choosing similar flavors in far more manageable quantities that are delicious — and doing some heavy planning when we do decide to have take out for dinner.
There’s nothing quite like the flavor of a roasted poblano chili, and when they’re stuffed with the perfect mixture of ingredients, my taste buds are completely satisfied. So does that make this recipe “Mexican?” Not by a long shot, but the flavors are reminiscent and that’s good enough for me right now.
And if you’ve never roasted a chili, this is a great reason to learn. It’s easier than you might think!
Chicken Stuffed Poblano Chilies with Mushrooms and Tomatoes
Stuffed Poblano Chilie Ingredients
2 large poblano chiles
1 c. grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 medium brown onion, chopped
1 lg. clove garlic, chopped
1 c. mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 cooked, diced chicken breast
1/8 c. asagio or other dry white cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (including some tender stems)
1 Tbs. lime juice
- Prepare the poblano chilies by roasting them over the flame on your stove, or a grill, turning occasionally to ensure all sides are blackened. You may also do this under your broiler.
- Remove the poblano chilies from the heat and wrap them in a clean towel to steam about 15 minutes.
- Peel off the blackened skin and slice each poblano chili in half before removing the seeds. Set aside.
- Prepare the chicken breast by frying in a skillet with half the olive oil over medium heat, allowing one side to brown at least 5 minutes before turning to allow the other side to brown. Remove from the skillet and allow to cool.
- In the same skillet, drizzle the remaining olive oil and add the onions and cook over medium heat, tossing a bit from time to time until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and toss with the onions, about 1 minute.
- Add the mushrooms, stirring to combine with the onions and garlic, and allow to cook just until they’re beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes.
- While the mushrooms are cooking, chop the chicken breast into about 1/2″ dice and add the pieces to the mushroom mix. Stir to combine.
- Add the tomatoes, oregano, cumin, cilantro, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss all ingredients lightly to combine.
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Place the poblano chilies on a baking pan and divide the mixture among them, mounding it as you go.
- Sprinkle each lightly with the cheese then set the pan in the oven about 6 ” from the broiler.
- Cook just until the filling begins to brown and the cheese is melted.
- Remove from the oven and serve with a bit of squeezed fresh lime juice.
- This recipe was inspired by one I found at Fine Cooking. Essentially, I cut the original recipe in half for the two of us, added the mushrooms (I used oyster mushrooms), omitted the cinnamon (but like the idea of it), used smaller tomatoes, and completely omitted the cheddar cheese thinking even 1 cup of cheese in this would be too much for us — or anyone for that matter at a whopping 455 calories. Want a little dinner with that cheese? A sprinkle of good cheese goes a very long way.
- I also deconstructed the filling to allow for most of the cooking time to take place on the stove top instead of the oven.
- Poblano chilies are very dark green in color, have a glossy skin, and remind me of long, thin bell peppers with a pointed bottom. You may see them labeled as pasilla chilies in your market, but that would be an incorrect label. Pasillas are actually the dried version of a chilaca chili. Epicurious has a great visual guide to fresh chilies here and Rick Bayless has thorough information about dried Mexican chilies here.
- Poblano chilies have such a wonderful, distinctive flavor which roasting intensifies to an pleasant earthy, smokey taste. I can’t think of another way to describe it so will have to work on that. If you’re worried about them being too spicy, they can be if used raw, but roasting does mellow the heat substantially.
- If you can’t find poblano chilies, then use chiles verdes, or Anaheim chilies. They’ll be much more thin and won’t hold as much of the filling, but they’ll taste great. I’d say you’d need at least 6 good sized Anaheim chilies for this recipe if you’re substituting.
- Sometimes it’s hard to get all the peelings off. Don’t worry about it. If you look at the end of the stuffed poblano in the first photo, you can see I missed a section!
- Try not to over do the roasting if you can avoid it. If you notice white spots, then you know you’ve gone too far. You can still enjoy the roasted poblanos, but they’ll be more delicate and challenging to work with. If that’s the case, please know you can always just chop them up and stir them into the mix of other ingredients instead of stuffing them. It will still be a tasty dish!
- Chicken breasts can vary so much in size, your cooking time may be quite different than mine. If you use a whole breast, chances are it won’t be quite done after the initial cook and you’ll see that when you slice into it. Putting it back in the pan with the other ingredients to finish will work, and the additional time under the broiler also helps.
- If you’ve still got some nice brown bits in the pan after you add the tomatoes, then drizzle in 1/4 c. of white wine or veggie broth to deglaze the pan. It will add something wonderful to the flavor. The tomatoes will normally take care of this, but the wine does add an additional flavor I enjoy.
- We enjoyed these stuffed chilies with roasted sweet potatoes which we’ve been eating quite a few of instead of rice and pasta. I usually peel one sweet potato, cut it into cubes, put it on a baking sheet and toss the pieces in 1-2 tsp. of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and sometimes chopped rosemary, and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, tossing to even the browning about half way through the cooking time.
- Thinking black beans and corn are going into the next version of these.
More poblano recipes from around the web
A Couple Cooks – “Stuffed Poblano Peppers”
Cooking with Amy — “Quinoa Stuffed Poblano Pepper Recipe”
A Spicy Perspective — “Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Red Pepper Puree”