What I’ve Been Cooking Lately: Megapoppers

You guys, I love peppers, I love cheese, and I love poppers. I used to make jalepeño poppers by hand, and it was kind of terrible. It took forever to core all the peppers, the ratio of pepper to cheese was pretty bad, and they were really spicy. But I made them anyway because I loved them. I even have a special baking tray for them that George got me for my birthday because I wanted to make poppers so much. These poppers below are the product of at least an hour of work (that were eaten in probably 5 minutes).

IMG_0018 2I had briefly experimented with making their big cousins, the chile relleno. It had a more satisfying quantity of cheese, but the frying took forever and making the “breading” around the pepper out of whipping different parts of eggs together and then frying it immediately before it collapses was really stressful. I did that once or twice and then just stopped and went back to jalepeño poppers, and would order chiles rellenos in restaurants. (Which was also unsatisfying because you can tell that a lot of places buy theirs frozen. Although I can see why, given how much of a hassle it is to make fresh.)

IMG_5755So I was making a lot of jalepeño poppers in the last few months and trying to construct ways to cook larger peppers upright in the oven, so the cheese didn’t spill out (the way my special pan holds jalepeños). Then I realized that if I can construct a proper foil contraption, I can fill up poblano peppers with cheese sideways, and the foil will keep the cheese from spilling out too much. I named them Megapoppers™.

I went through many iterations of this trying to find the right oven temperature, pepper prep method, size and type of cheese, and length of cooking. This below ended up being the best way for me in terms of easiness and personal taste, but I try to put in the other iterations too.

I started by cutting a “T” shape in the top of the pepper, pulling back the flaps and taking out all of the seeds with my hand or a spoon. On early iterations I roasted the pepper on the stove first, since that is what you do for chile rellenos, but I realized that while deep frying doesn’t cook the pepper all the way through, oven roasting does so I started skipping that step which cut prep time in half. I also get all of the seeds out because I don’t like it being that spicy, but you could leave some/all in if you do, or want to use a milder pepper and save time. I have also found that sometimes I get sneezy when doing this step and I have started wearing a painter’s mask over my nose and mouth which solves everything.

IMG_0023Next I fill it up with cheese. I have found that extra sharp yellow cheddar is the best kind for this purpose. Sometimes I will mix in a bit of mozzerella for chewiness. I haven’t tried jack or pepperjack, but those are next on my list. I can report back. At first I always shredded the cheese (as in the pic below), but recent experimentation has shown that cutting it into cubes works just as well and saves time. When stuffing the cheese inside, try not to rip the top of the T too far down the side of the pepper, because it can lead to some cheese leak later on.

IMG_0021Next, take a sheet of foil, fold it over on itself once, so there are two layers to it, and then wrap it tightly around the sides of the pepper, and fold it up at the top and bottom to form a boat-like shape. (Alternatively, you can wrap the whole thing in foil and put in fridge or freezer for later cooking.) Put it in oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, and check on them around 20 minutes. If you like firmer peppers you can pull them around now. If you like softer peppers, it might take another 5-10 minutes. If you leave it in longer than that, the cheese will get deliciously crispy and the pepper flesh will start melting into the cheese on the inside and the outside will get hard and kind of brittle. I don’t like this very much so usually pull them out after around 35 minutes. If you really like cheese crispies, you can turn the oven up to 450 or broil for the last 5 minutes, but keep an eye on it the whole time.

DSC_0070I know this sounds like a long time, but it’s not. Prep takes one knife and one cutting board (so few dishes!) and totals around 5 mins per pepper, tops. More if you scale. I make a bunch and then eat them all week. Once they are out of the oven, push the foil down flat, then use two forks or spatulas to lift the pepper out of the foil and onto your plate. If any melted cheese escaped, pour it and the cheese juice onto the pepper. Gooey cheese and pepper everywhere!

DSC_0092So George and I made these pretty much every day for a month or so. Eventually I decided to make a version with vegetables. I stir fry onions and garlic in oil, add in cumin, a can of pureed tomatoes, can of black beans, a cup or so of cooked quinoa, handful of cheese, chopped olives and a ton of cilantro. This takes maybe 10 minutes.

IMG_0019Spoon this into peppers instead of cheese. Should fill around 3-5 poblanos. Sometimes I make a double batch and just put this in the fridge in a tupperware for a few days and make more stuffed peppers as needed. Usually these are a bit messier than cheese-only and I’ll end up cooking them in a glass pan instead of individually wrapped foil. You can also cook the cheese-only ones in the pan, I am just lazy and don’t like washing out the pan if I don’t need to. Also I think the foil leads to a crispier pepper.

IMG_0018I LOVE MEGAPOPPERS! So easy and delicious. You should make some and send me pictures!!

Relatedly, George made a megapopper gratin, which was just a potato and cheese gratin with slabs of poblano pepper in it too. It was delicious, but took a lot more effort to make. I encourage it for anyone who wants to add some potato to their popper. I also started adding some small potatoes to the mix above instead of quinoa sometimes and that is delicious too. Thank you ancient Quechuan farmers for domesticating so many delicious plants.