Earlier this week, at the produce section in the market, the pile of Hatch chiles had grown so large and stacked so high, it could no longer not be ignored. Hatch chiles have a very short harvest in late summer and early autumn—August through September. They are cultivated in New Mexico’s Hatch Valley region and have become an icon of New Mexico cuisine. They have a beautiful sweet, smokey and a bit fruity flavor. Hatch chiles are versatile and usually eaten fire roasted and peeled.
Hatch chiles were not a part of my life as a kid, but growing up in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mexican food was a staple in my childhood. Often, when my family went out for dinners, we dined at the same Mexican restaurant. It was a comfy place my parents, older brother and I could all find something we enjoyed eating. Sometimes my father would order a chile relleno. As a child, this dish was especially mysterious for me. I remember my mother telling me the green chile was inside the egg batter. But for some reason, I couldn’t work out in my small head where exactly was the chile. The concept continued to elude me—the whole green chile stuffed with cheese, hidden inside an egg batter and underneath a thick coat of red sauce and gooey cheese. Luckily, I grew older and eventually slightly more clever to grasp the intriguing idea of the multilayered chile relleno.
Literally translated, chile relleno means ‘stuffed chile.’ So, as Hatch chile season helps us segue into early fall, I thought it a good time to relive childhood memories of Mexican restaurant dinners with my family. I’ve loosely interpreted my chile relleno with mild sweet green fire roasted Hatch chiles* stuffed with homemade vegan queso** and topped with mango, ruby red grapefruit, fresh lime juice, sea salt and chipotle. The stuffed chiles can be served as a main course, a side dish or an appetizer.
*If you don’t have Hatch chiles you can still make this recipe with any type of chile mild enough to be eaten whole. Chile rellenos are traditionally made with other types of chiles.
**I have include a simple recipe for homemade vegan queso fresco cheese. It is fun and easy to make from raw macadamia nuts. But must be made at least a day ahead. If you want to use store bought cheese simply omit Day 1 and begin with Day 2 instructions.
Bye Bye Summer, Hello Fall Hatch Chiles with Vegan Queso Fresco
- 8 Hatch green chiles
- 1 Mango (finely chopped)
- 1 Ruby Red Grapefruit (finely chopped, optionally roasted)
- 2 Limes (cut in wedges)
- 1 tablespoon Chipotle
- Sea salt
- For Queso Fresco Cheese
- 1 cup Raw macadamia nuts (soaked)
- 1 Garlic clove (small)
- 1 teaspoon Sea salt
- 1 tablespoon Olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Fresh lime juice
- 4 tablespoons Water
DAY 1 – Making Cheese
1. Soak raw macadamia nuts at least 3 hours up to overnight.
2. After soaking, drain and rinse nuts. Prepare a double layered 12 in x 12 in square of cheese cloth and a string or something to tie cheesecloth.
3. In a food processor or high speed blender combine nuts, small garlic clove, salt, olive oil, lime juice and 1 tablespoon water. Process until mixture is wet enough to hold together but still a little crumbly like wet sand. (If you’re having trouble getting ingredients to combine properly, add additional water 1 tablespoon at at time. You will be squeezing the water out later so it is ok if mixture gets watery.) Taste and add additional sea salt or lime juice if desired.
4. Scoop mixture onto cheesecloth. Gather edges of cheesecloth to make a sachet. Over a bowl or sink, squeeze excess liquid from cheese.
5. When you’ve squeezed as much liquid at you can out of cheese, form it into a small disc shape and secure cheesecloth with string.
6. Place cheese on a plate or in a bowl and refrigerate overnight.
DAY 2 – Roasting Chiles
1. Either over a grill or in the oven, roast chiles until their skin blisters and blackens. While still very hot, immediately place chiles in sealed bag or container and let sit for 15 minutes. (This will help them to release their skins.)
2. After 15 minutes, gently peel skins off chiles.
3. Preheat oven 375 degrees. Line a baking tray with lightly oiled parchment paper and set aside.
4. Split chiles lengthwise. Under gently running water, remove seeds and inner ribs. (The ribs are the part that hold the seeds to the chile and are the hottest part of the chile.)
5. Pat chiles dry and place on lined baking tray. Stuff chiles with cheese.
6. Bake 20-30 minutes or until hot all the way through and cheese is lightly browned.
7. Top with mango, ruby red grapefruit, and chipotle.
8. Serve with lime wedges and sea salt.
Photo: Robin Kurotsuchi