By Jane Palmer
September 10, 2008
They’re fresh, mild chili peppers, stuffed with a savory filling and fried with a feather—light egg batter. They arrive tender and hot. Draped with a mild green chili pepper sauce and a whisper of melted cheese.
When a reader of Nichole Aksamit’s Dining Notes column asked in the spring where to find a mild version of chiles rellenos, about 80 percent of the responses suggested Lil Burro restaurant in Bellevue.
Shane Ashelford, owner-chef at Lil’ Burro, said the cornerstone of his chiles rellenos are the Anaheim chili peppers that he grows in a garden near the restaurant. Poblano chili peppers are another option, but his customers generally prefer the Anaheims.
Chiles rellenos have become such a specialty there that his patrons start asking him in January when he’s going to plant his chili pepper seeds.
“All year long they ask questions,” he said. “Thy ask, ‘Have you picked an peppers yet?’”
Lately, he’s reaping the late-summer harvest from about 350 plants and anticipating fresh peppers until the first frost. When his garden is no longer producing, he turns to grocery wholesalers to find fresh Anaheim peppers from places with warmer climates. He uses both green- and red-skinned Anaheim peppers. The red-skinned ones have simply ripened longer on the pepper plant. Bell peppers, common in the Midwest, are too acidic, he said.
The best chiles rellenos are made fresh, he said. The peppers might be peeled earlier in the day, but they are not assembled, battered or fried until the customer orders them. The batter should be light and crisp. Working ahead leads to a leaden, soggy result that less careful cooks tend to disguise by smother it in grated cheese.
“It should be a chili stuffed with cheese, not smothered with cheese – and not a cheese casserole,” he said.
In Mexico, a chile rellenos is enjoyed several ways. One of the simplest is to wrap it in a tortilla and eat it out of hand. Another way is on a plate, topped with a sauce. Ashelford serves chiles rellenos with a pork and green chili pepper gravy that he makes on the premise.
Another good way to serve chiles rellenos is with a salsa verde – a green chili pepper sauce available in cans or jars where Mexican groceries are sold.