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08 Jun 2023

Ixta Belfrage’s chiles rellenos with salsa roja risotto

Ixta Belfrage’s chiles rellenos with salsa roja risotto

Let’s get a couple of things straight. First, I know that these aren't chiles rellenos (a classic Mexican dish from the state of Puebla) in the true sense of the dish. They're not made with poblano chillies, they're not filled with traditional ingredients, they're not battered and deep-fried — having said that, if you can get your hands on queso oaxaca/quesillo, please use this instead of feta and mozzarella. They are, however, inspired by chiles rellenos (one of my favourite dishes of all time) and they are also, quite literally, chiles rellenos — stuffed (chilli) peppers. Second, I also know that this isn't risotto — it’s not made with arborio rice, and it’s not cooked in the traditional manner. However, the texture of the end result is very much like that of a good risotto. It would be remiss of me to call this dish something like... oh, I don’t know, ‘stuffed peppers with spicy rice’. Not only does that sound really boring, it also takes away from that crucial inspiration.

Note, I used romano peppers because they're a readily available, flavoursome pepper variety in the UK. If you have access to fresh poblano chilli peppers, please use them instead. 


Serves: 4 
Takes: 1 hr 20 mins, plus 2 hrs soaking

INGREDIENTS  

8 red romano peppers 
200g short-grain brown rice, soaked for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) 
450ml of water 
300g feta, roughly broken into small pieces 
200g buffalo mozzarella, drained well, patted dry and torn into medium chunks  
2 spring onions, julienned 
5g fresh coriander leaves 
2 limes, cut into wedges, to serve 

For the salsa roja 
2 tbsp olive oil 
15g unsalted butter 
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped (120g) 
2 cloves of garlic, finely grated/crushed 
300g sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes, such as datterini 
½ dried ancho chilli 
1 dried habanero chilli (or a pinch of regular/chipotle chilli flakes, if you prefer milder heat) 
1 tsp cumin seeds 
½ teaspoon coriander seeds 
1 tsp fine salt
2 tsp tomato puree/paste 

METHOD 

  1. Turn the oven grill to the highest setting. Cut a slit along one side of each pepper, keeping them attached at the top and bottom. Arrange the peppers on a rack set over a baking tray, slit side up. 

  2. Grill until soft and blackened in patches, about 7 mins, then turn the peppers and grill for another 4-8 mins until that side is soft and blackened in patches too. Keep an eye on them, as they may be ready sooner if your grill runs hot. Set the tray aside and leave the peppers to cool on the rack, slit side down, so any liquid drains away. 

  3. Cook the rice. Drain the soaked rice and put into a medium saucepan with 450ml of water. Bring to a simmer over a medium-high heat. Once simmering, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid, and cook for 25 mins. Remove from the heat and leave to rest for 10 mins with the lid still on. 

  4. While the rice is cooking, make the salsa. Put everything except the tomato puree/paste into a large sauté pan on a medium-high heat and fry, stirring often, for 15 mins, until the tomatoes have broken down and the onions are soft and golden-brown. Turn the heat down to medium or medium-low if the mixture starts to catch or burn. 

  5. Discard the habanero (or squeeze it with the back of a spoon before removing it if you like heat). Transfer the salsa to a blender with 120ml water and tomato puree/paste and blend until completely smooth. Return to the pan and set aside. 

  6. Turn the oven grill to the highest setting once more.

  7. Stuff the peppers. Mix the feta and mozzarella together in a bowl. Transfer the peppers from the rack to a foil-lined tray. Peel some of the skin off – just the bits that tear away easily (you don’t want to rip a hole in the peppers). Pat the insides dry and season with a pinch of salt. Stuff the peppers with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with a little flaked salt and drizzle over a little oil. You can prepare the peppers up to this point up to 4 hours ahead. 

  8. Grill for 7-9 mins near the top of the oven, until the cheese is bubbling and browned in patches. Set aside to cool for a few minutes (but not for too long, as the melted cheese will begin to harden). 

  9. Add the cooked rice to the pan with the salsa roja, stir together and gently heat through for a minute. The texture should be that of a loose, saucy risotto; add a splash of water if it’s looking thick. 

  10. To serve, spoon the risotto onto a platter and top with the peppers. Finish with the spring onions and coriander, squeeze over some lime and serve. 

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