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Ixta Belfrage’s Chiles Rellenos with Salsa Roja Risotto

by Ixta Belfrage from MEZCLA: Recipes to Excite

Featuring sweet romano peppers stuffed with mozzarella and feta and served on a bed of salsa roja risotto, Ixta Belfrage's chiles rellenos are a striking, flavourful centrepiece for entertaining.

From the book

Ixta Belfrage

Introduction

Let’s get a couple of things straight.

First, I know that these are not chiles rellenos in the true sense of the dish. They are not made with Poblano chillies, they are not filled with traditional ingredients,* they are not battered and deep-fried. 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 is not risotto – it is not made with arborio rice, and it is 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.

*Although if you can get your hands on queso Oaxaca/quesillo, please use this instead of feta and mozzarella.

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

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Ingredients

8 red romano peppers
200g short-grain brown rice, soaked for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight)
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 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fine salt
120g water
2 tsp tomato purée/paste

Method

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.

Grill until soft and blackened in patches, about 7 minutes, then turn the peppers and grill for another 4–8 minutes, 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.

Cook the rice. Drain the soaked rice and put into a medium saucepan with 450g of water. Bring to a simmer over a medium-high heat. Once simmering, lower the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid, and cook for 25 minutes.

Remove from the heat and leave to rest for 10 minutes with the lid still on.

While the rice is cooking, make the salsa. Put the first 10 ingredients (everything except the water and tomato purée/paste) into a large sauté pan on a medium-high heat and fry, stirring often, for 15 minutes, 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.

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 the water and tomato purée/paste and blend until completely smooth. Return to the pan and set aside.

Turn the oven grill to the highest setting.

Now 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.

Grill for 7–9 minutes 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).

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.

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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From the book: MEZCLA: Recipes to Excite

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