Sunday Dinner: Shrimp & Plantain Stuffed Poblano Peppers in Criollo SauceTuesday, May 01, 2012
Publishing a food blog is definitely getting my creative juices flowing; tonight's recipe is no exception. I've been toying around with the idea of doing stuffed peppers for awhile now, but I really wanted to create something to make me forget the rice and ground beef stuffed bell peppers I've eaten in the past. Let's face it, most stuffed peppers are uninspiring. They are often soggy, drenched in tomato sauce to cover up otherwise bland ingredients, and not that pretty to look at. On the other end of the spectrum is one of my favorite authentic Mexican dishes I got to know while living in El Paso, chiles rellenos, made with poblano peppers loaded with cheese and sometimes meat, dipped in batter and fried. Tasty? Damn right. Healthy? Not so much. I knew that I wanted to use the poblano peppers though - if nothing more than to redeem myself from a previous stint in trying to roast and stuff these suckers that failed miserably, resulting in a makeshift casserole. I also knew that I wanted to take advantage of the $5.99/lb shrimp special going on this weekend at Publix. Finally, I had some extra plantains on hand that were just about ripe. While that may seem like a wildcard, it turned out to be the missing link A random Google search for "shrimp and plantains" lead me to a curious Puerto Rican dish called Mofongo, made with mashed green plantains and pork cracklings. By all appearances it just might be the holy grail of plantain dishes. However it was this version that caught my eye, served with shrimp and a tomato based sauce. (Note to self: must get to Jimmy'z Kitchen in Miami, ASAP!)
It was then that the gears began to turn and my recipe was brought to life. Instead of using rice as the base of my stuffing, I would take a cue from the Mofongo and use mashed plantains, albeit a sweeter version as my plantains were near ripe. The shrimp would be sauteed in Latin seasonings and incorporated into the stuffing, which would fill the slightly spicy roasted poblano peppers. I would then make a tomato & red pepper criollo sauce, similar to marinara in texture but flavored with garlic, cumin and cilantro. And because I wasn't ready to give up the idea of cheese completely, I picked up a package of fresh Queso Blanco, a white Mexican cheese that is lower in fat than most aged cheeses and has a texture similar to feta. With only five main ingredients needed, the rest being staples I always have on hand, I was well under my $20 budget.
My notes were neatly written, I had what I believed to be a seemingly straightforward recipe that I was ready to bang out after work Friday evening. I did my research and studied up on proper poblano roasting & peeling techniques. I knew that without the open flame of a gas stove or grill, I would have to improvise by using my broiler, but this time paying closer attention so as not to over-cook the peppers and have them fall apart on me. My previous attempt at roasting poblano peppers would be a thing of the past. I was not going to skip steps, so my plastic bag was ready to steam the charred peppers and I had plenty of time to allow the peppers to cool before working on them. I had my trusted paring knife ready to scrape off the blistered skin, leaving behind perfectly roasted peppers ready to stuff. You see, this time I had a plan, and it was going to go perfectly.
Three hours later...my back was aching, my son had long since fallen asleep, and my face looked something like this as I stared in disbelief at the clock:
I admit, I had a moment there. But I worked it out, the dish came together beautifully and my son miraculously awoke to the smell of stuffed poblano peppers coming out of the oven. So while I will caution you that this recipe is time consuming and labor intensive due to it being mostly hands-on cooking time, I can assure you that your efforts won't be in vain. I hope that you're as proud as yourself as I was when I took that first bite and realized every minute of hard work was absolutely worth it. Realistically, it probably also wouldn't take as long to cook now that I know what to expect, but take my advice and try this for Sunday dinner, because if you're like me it's the only day of the week that would have made sense to spend this much time cooking!
4 large poblano peppers
1 lb raw shrimp
2 large plantains*
1 red bell pepper
2 c. Queso Fresco
1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 Tbsp Sofrito Tomato Cooking Base (I use Goya, but any brand is fine)
2 large sweet onions, red and/or white
1 whole garlic bulb
1 -2 tsp chipotle powder
1 -2 tsp Cumin
Vegetable broth, as needed
Sea Salt, to taste
*The ripeness of the plantains you choose can alter the dish significantly. Riper plantains, with partially blackened skin will yield a sweeter stuffing. Choosing greener plantains will give you a more savory stuffing, so it's a matter of personal preference. I don't recommend using plantains that are completely ripe because the texture will be too soft for stuffing.
Prep Time: Clear your schedule. Okay, realistically 1 - 2 hours..
Cook Time: 30 min
Carefully spoon the sauce into the pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the poblanos.
Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese has softened (it won't melt.) If you made your peppers a day ahead of time, adjust the cooking time so that the stuffing is heated thoroughly. In the last 5 minutes or so of baking, remove foil and sprinkle with additional cheese. Add the shrimp garnish if you'd like.
To serve, I placed one stuffed pepper in a large bowl and spooned criollo sauce around it. I then warmed some Mexican Crema (similar to sour cream) and drizzled that over the pepper, and garnished with chopped fresh cilantro.
Serve with a bowl of brown rice and a fresh salad, and you'll have a restaurant worthy meal in your own home. It's a beautiful dish and the contrast of flavors are exciting. Exhausting, but totally worth the effort! That said, I may or may not have passed out on the couch without doing the dishes that night...