I think that sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves when it comes to planning and making dinner day after day. We stress out way too much over something that shouldn’t be stressful at all. When it all boils down to it (pun intended) cooking shouldn’t be complicated. In fact, it should be fun and enjoyable. That can be easily accomplished by simply turning on some music and drinking a glass (maybe two or three) of wine while you cook. That would totally make any task more enjoyable, to be quite honest. Mowing the lawn with a glass of wine. Vacuuming the house with a glass of wine. Reading a book with a glass of wine. Dancing on the kitchen counters with a glass of wine. Oh, if you’re completing all those tasks while drinking, you’ll definitely end up dancing on those kitchen counters. But we’re talking about dinner here. So let’s talk about dinner. Week after week we wrack our brains so as to come up with something new and exciting to make for ourselves, our family and our friends. We’d like nothing more than to make something different. Something we’ve never cooked before, but above all, something that is easy to whip up and doesn’t take long before we get to devour the end result. More and more we find ourselves in a cooking rut and are so desperately trying to get out of it. We face the inevitable question, mostly asked to us, “What is for dinner tonight?”
We peruse the grocery store aisles looking for inspiration. What calls out to us? No doubt the same boring recipes we always make, week after week. The similar humdrum dishes that have no pizzazz (yes I just said pizzazz. I’m bringing it back. Tell all your friends). More often than not, I end up making everyday a Taco Tuesday. It’s my go-to dinner idea. In my defense, you can wrap anything in a tortilla and top it with cheese and guacamole and you’d have yourself a prey-ty fantastic dinner. But when the awful day comes when you’re tired of tacos (gasp!!), hamburgers (what?!), and pizza (never!!) and they just don’t call out to you anymore like they used to, then the time has come to step out of your comfort zone to make something deliciously simple. But what is this delectably effortless dish I speak of? Well, roasted shrimp-stuffed poblanos of course. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you incorporate shrimp and cheese into any dish, you’ll have a winning recipe, hands down. Without a doubt. Not to mention a satisfied crowd. But if you’re cooking for just yourself, well then, you my friend are the luckiest of us all because you don’t have to share your stuffed peppers with anyone. We envy you because you have more for yourself to enjoy. After all, my days are spent contemplating how I can eat all the food without sharing. I’ve yet to come up with a good solution for that one. One day though, one day (insert evil laugh here).
Normally stuffed poblanos are filled with cheese (like we’re going to) and then they are dipped in an eggy type batter and fried (like we’re not going to). Now, there’s nothing wrong with fried, I’m an advocate for fried foods. I’ll never turn them down. Especially a doughnut…there I go again. I think I just need to make doughnuts, so I can eat them by the dozen and be forever content in happy doughnut bliss. But I digress, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, doughnuts. NO! Stuffed poblanos. These here stuffed peppers we are going to make, aren’t battered and fried. They are baked. So let’s feel a little better about the fact that there’s a plethora of cheese in these shall we?
We start by making a quick sauce for our stuffed peppers. It’s a roasted red pepper and tomato-y kind of sauce. I say this because yep, you guessed it, there’s roasted red peppers and tomatoes in the sauce. Shocking right?
So what do we need? Well, we most definitely need some red bell peppers.
They have to be roasted. I like to use the broiler for this task. So pop these bad boys on a baking sheet, and place them underneath the broiler. Incidentally, don’t line the baking sheet with parchment paper like I did. Only moments later I smelled something burning so I opened the oven door only to be hit with a gush of smoke. Coughing and stumbling I reached for the pan, which was ignited with flames. Screams and shrieks were heard by all. I might be exaggerating, just a bit. The paper did start to burn but there were no flames or smoke, but the smell, that was real. Learn from my misadventures folks, and line the sheet with foil instead.
Keep an eye on them, turning the peppers every so often. You want the skins to be charred and black. Don’t be scared or concerned if the skins get really black. That’s the purpose. We are roasting the peppers to remove the skins, and to create an extra depth of flavor. That’s one of the most important steps of cooking, developing flavor. I recommend broiling them with the oven door slightly open so that it doesn’t get really smokey inside and then you’re hit with a giant puff of smoke in your face each time you open the door to turn them. Also it will prevent the smoke detector from going off. That happens to me all the time, cut to me fanning the alarm with a kitchen towel waiting for it to shut up. It happens.
**Tip: If you don’t feel like roasting the peppers or don’t have the time, you can use jarred roasted peppers instead. You’d need a 12 ounce jar that has been drained from it’s liquids.**
It should take about 8 to 10 minutes for the skins to charr.
In the mean time, let’s prepare our poblano peppers. These are going to be stuffed so it’s a different process.
The low down on poblanos. That’s what they look like. There up above. Take a good look at them because at the market you might go around searching for poblanos, but you won’t find a sign for poblanos. For some reason most markets in the US list them as “pasilla” peppers. I’ve seen them listed as both, so look out for them. They’ll be by the bell peppers and what not.
These also need to be roasted to remove the skins and develop their flavors. However, and this is a big however, I don’t like putting these under the broiler because then I feel like the peppers get too soft and cooked and then you can’t stuff them later on. So I roast these over an open flame, like a thrifty boy scout. Pop them on your gas range burner (directly on the flames) and allow the skins to char, turning them to blacken all around.
**Note: If you don’t have a gas range and cant roast the peppers, you can do it under the broiler, but leave the door wide open and turn the peppers constantly allowing for only the skins to blacken, not cooking the peppers with the heat from the oven.**
Once all the poblano peppers have been charred, allow them to cool down on a plate or cutting board.
Okay, so let’s look at the roasted red bell peppers, they should be done by now.
I know what you are thinking, “Jonathan, that is burnt! You’re telling us to burn our peppers!” Yes! That’s exactly what I want you to do. That is okay, believe me. So what happens is that when the skin gets charred like that, it separates from the peppers and makes it a lot easier to peel them. Plus you get that added “roasted” flavor.
Right now you need to transfer the peppers to a bowl.
While they are still super hot, cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to cool completely while wrapped. The steam will make the skinning process even easier. It’ll be a piece of cake. You’ll see that the skin will just slide off. Practically skin itself for you.
Once cooled, they need to be completely cooled in order to be able to handle them (unless you are superman or superwoman and don’t feel heat on your finger tips then go right ahead while they are hot), transfer them back onto a cutting board.
You’ll notice that the peppers are really soft and easy to handle. Remove the seeds and stems first.
Then with the blade of your knife, scrape the charred skin off the peppers. Or you can do this with your hands and just peel off the skin, that will work too.
And BOOM, just like that you saved yourself a ton of money. It’s insane how much jarred roasted peppers are at the market. You can do it yourself and use the money you saved on other, more important things, like buying a golf cart. Or buying a summer home by the beach. Okay, so you won’t save that much money by roasting your own, but you’ll definitely be able to buy yourself that pack of gum you’ve been eyeing at the check out counter.
Now we are ready to finish the sauce.
You’ll need a food processor or a blender.
Add our perfectly roasted red peppers and a can of fire roasted tomatoes (with their juice). “What?!? You’re using canned tomatoes after all that effort you put into roasting your own peppers?” I know, I know. I could roast my own tomatoes as well, but what am I, a magician?! I don’t have all the time in the world! Plus it would take a lot of tomatoes and I’m waaaay too lazy. Roasting the red peppers took all my energy. Canned tomatoes are just fine. It’s a convenience that’s worth it.
**Tip: If you can’t find fire roasted tomatoes, plain canned tomatoes will do just fine. The fire roasted, however, will give the sauce great flavor.**
Then we’re going to season our sauce with some seasonings.
Put the lid on it and purée until completely smooth. I let it go for a good minute or so. Okay, I might be exaggerating, but it was almost a minute. It sure felt like it was.
Give it a taste and check the seasonings. If you think it needs more salt or pepper or garlic or cumin, add some. You are in charge, I’m letting you loose. But don’t get carried away. That’s the only leeway you get. I kid. You can do whatever you want, this is your dinner.
Transfer the sauce to a bowl and set aside. We’ll use it later.
Now back to the poblano peppers. You’ll remember that we roasted those and we left them to cool. They’ll be cool by now for sure.
So as you can see, these aren’t as charred or black as the red peppers. They are still slightly firm. Which is good because we need them to hold up when we stuff them. Also if you noticed we didn’t cover these with plastic wrap.
As with before, use the blade of your knife to carefully remove the skins. Be a little more careful with these because you don’t want the peppers to split. You don’t need to remove the skins completely. Just do it in a rustic sort of way.
You’re going to keep the stems on, but need to remove the seeds. To do this, make a slit down the middle of the pepper and remove the seeds by hand.
Then shake off the loose seeds inside.
If some of your peppers rip completely or are too cooked, don’t worry too much about it. The filling will help hold them together.
Put these off to the side, until you’re ready to stuff them.
In the meantime, we do need something to stuff them with. As with traditional stuffed poblanos, this is going to be a cheesy stuffing but with a great twist.
Start by chopping a yellow onion.
Also seed and mince a jalapeño pepper. You don’t have to use a jalapeño if you don’t like your food spicy. It can easily be left out without any major change to the flavor. I just like that added kick. But I promise it isn’t too hot. The cheese helps mellow out the heat.
**Tip: As with most peppers, a great deal of the heat lies in the seeds and membrane of the pepper so remove them before chopping. I like to use a spoon so that I’m not directly touching it with my fingers. If you do touch the jalapeño make sure to wash your hands well before touching important parts of your face, you know, like your eyes or something. That would hurt. I once finished shaving and then went down to cook afterwards, chopped a jalapeño and touched my face for some reason. Open pores and heat not a good combo. I don’t recommend.**
We need to sauté the veggies, so heat a pan over medium heat, and drizzle in some olive oil.
Add the onions, stir and allow to cook for a bit until they begin to soften.
Add two cloves chopped garlic, and the minced jalapeño from earlier, if using.
Again, give everything a stir and allow to cook for a bit. You want the veggies to soften and the onions to get translucent.
Lower the heat, slightly, and allow it to sauté for about five minutes, stirring constantly.
Season with a bit of salt and pepper and ground coriander. I find that coriander goes really well with most latin and hispanic dishes. Most often you’ll see it in the form of seeds. You can crush the seeds in a spice grinder or mortal and pestle if you have that on hand.
And because everything, absolutely everything, is better with shrimp, we’re going to add shrimp to our dish. If you want to keep this completely vegetarian, you can omit the shrimp. But if you want be blown out of the water (what water Jonathan?) then add the shrimp.
Of course, I added the shrimp. It was 100 times better that way.
Stir in the shrimp and allow it too cook in one even layer, making sure the spices and cooked veggies are all incorporated with the shrimp as it cooks. It’ll disperse the flavor that way.
Cook the shrimp until they are pink and no longer translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. You do not want to over-cook it because then you’ll end up with rubbery shrimp, and there’s nothing worse than rubbery over-cooked shrimp.
Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove. Allow it to cool down slightly.
And now for the rest of the stuffing mixture. The cheese. The second best part of this dish, aside from the shrimp of course.
We’re going to use cream cheese, softened, and freshly grated monterey jack cheese. If you want an even more added kick, you can use pepper jack.
**Tip: Always grate your own cheese, it ensures freshness. Who knows how long that pre-shredded stuff has been sitting there in the bag!**
Throw those into a bowl and mix together.
Add the cooked veggie and shrimp mixture.
The slight heat from the shrimp will begin to melt the cheese and make the mixture creamy.
Mix it all together until creamy and smooth and everything is well incorporated.
We’re now ready to stuff the peppers. Grab the cooled, skinned, seeded and open peppers from earlier.
Working with one at a time, spoon in a bit of the stuffing into each pepper. Dividing the filling evenly between each.
You can arrange these on a 9×13 inch baking dish or do individual servings like I did. I just used a couple of creme brûlée dishes.
Spoon some of the sauce from earlier that we made, into the bottom of each dish or the one baking dish if you’re going that route.
You might have some sauce leftover at the end. You can just keep piling on the sauce between each dish or you can save it for later in the week for something else. It’s great with eggs in the morning. Or as simple as can be with some tortilla chips. Both of which I’ve tried and fell in love with. I’m Jonathan Melendez and I approve this message.
Place one stuffed pepper in each of the dishes on top of the sauce. OR like I said before, if you’re just using one 9×13 inch baking dish, arrange the stuffed peppers on top of the sauce in the dish.
Pop these on a baking sheet (to catch any drips) lined with foil paper (to make clean-up a breeze) and bake for 40 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the peppers have set and the tops have browned.
Allow the peppers to cool slightly, you don’t want to be impatient and burn your mouth. That’s happened to me so many times than I care to remember.
Let’s top with a couple of garnishes while we wait.
A tip on garnishes, they should always be edible and it should be something that compliments the dish well. Since this is hot, I think it’s a good idea to top with something cool and refreshing to offset it and balance the dish out nicely.
Queso fresco, which is a Mexican fresh cheese. You can find it in most markets these days. But if you can’t no big deal, it’s not crucial.
And also cilantro.
The queso fresco is sold in a circle, you’ll want to crumble it so you can sprinkle it over the peppers.
Sprinkle that cheese over the poblanos. Make sure you do it carefully and strategically. Do it one crumble at a time, as if it were rocket science and your life depended upon arranging the cheese perfectly…..I’m totally kidding, just throw it on.
And last but certainly not least, top with a few cilantro leaves here and there. You don’t have to add cilantro if you A) don’t want to B) don’t like it or C) don’t have any on hand. If your reason for not adding cilantro isn’t listed, well then it doesn’t count, you’ll need to add it.
Now we can finally eat! Serve it along side rice and beans. Or rice and a salad. Or rice and grilled veggies. Notice how I keep saying rice? That’s because it’s really good served along side rice. But in all reality rice is good along side everything. It’s even good just by itself.
If you’re not a fan of shrimp,
we can’t be friends, then you can totally omit it and add other things instead. Whatever your heart desires. You can keep it strictly vegetarian by adding roasted corn instead. Char the fresh corn under the broiler, like we did the peppers, and then cut off the kernels and add them to the filling. You can also do a medley of sautéed veggies like zucchini, summer squash and mexican squash. OOH or chayote.
If you don’t like shrimp but still want some kind of protein you can add grilled chicken, if you’d like. Season the chicken simply with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes on each side. Allow to cool, dice it and then add it to the filling. Or if you have some store bought rotisserie chicken left over, you can shred it and add it to the filling.
Basically this is an easy recipe that you can switch up and make your own with whatever you’d like. Or you can make it like I did because it’s fantastically awesome as it is. It makes for the perfect weeknight dinner because it’s relatively fast and easy to whip up. Get those tunes turned up and start pour that wine, cooking just got fun and exciting once again.
Roasted Shrimp-Stuffed Poblano Peppers
You can fill these poblanos with whatever your heart desires. If you’re not feeling the shrimp (gasp) you can do chicken or sausage. Or you can keep it strictly vegetarian and use roasted corn. Whatever you decide to stuff it with, one thing is for sure, you won’t be able to get enough! Serve it with rice and beans or a salad, to make it a complete meal.
yield: 6 servings
- 3 red bell peppers, roasted (or 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained)
- 1 (14-ounce can) fire roasted tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 6 medium poblano (pasilla) peppers
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 pound shrimp, deveined and shelled
- 1 (8-ounce package) cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
- ¼ cup queso fresco (Mexican fresh cheese), crumbled (optional)
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves, for garnish
1. Place the red bell peppers on a baking sheet lined with foil paper. Place under the broiler and char the skins, turning often to evenly blacken. About 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the peppers to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool completely. Once cooled, transfer the peppers to a cutting board. Remove the stems and seeds. Using the blade of your knife scrape off the charred skin. In a food processor or blender, combine the roasted peppers, canned tomatoes, salt, black pepper, garlic powder and cumin. Purée until completely smooth. Set aside and reserve for later.
2. Char the poblano peppers directly over an open flame on your stove. (If you have an electric stove with no flame, then you can place the peppers under the broiler and roast them like the red peppers. Just keep an eye on them, turning the poblanos often). Once the poblanos are charred all around, transfer to a plate or dish and allow to cool completely, uncovered. Once cool, carefully remove the skin by scraping the outside with the blade of your knife. Remove the seeds from the poblano peppers (keeping the stems in tact) by making a slit down the middle and scooping out the seeds. Set peppers aside.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a skillet over medium heat and drizzle in the olive oil. Add the chopped onions, garlic and jalapeño. Sauté for about 5 minutes until the veggies are soft. Season with salt, pepper and ground coriander. Add the shrimp and stir. Cook until the shrimp turn pink and are no longer opaque. Be careful not to over cook them. Turn off the flame and remove the pan from the stove. Allow to cool slightly.
4. In a large bowl combine the softened cream cheese, monterey jack cheese, and shrimp mixture. Stir until smooth and well combined. Stuff the peppers with the cheese-shrimp mixture, dividing the filling evenly between the six poblanos. Spoon the sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish or 6 individual serving dishes. Place the stuffed peppers on top of the sauce. Bake for 4o minutes on a baking sheet lined with foil to catch any drips. The cheese should be bubbly and the tops golden brown. Remove from oven and top with crumbled queso fresco and cilantro. Serve right away. Enjoy!