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I have to admit that I don’t enjoy overly spicy food. I think there’s an expectation when you grow a vegetable garden and like to cook that you need to get into hot pepper culture. But generally, jalapenos or chipotles are as hot as I go these days. When I want some spice, jalapenos are my go-to pepper because they have just a bit of heat and they don’t overpower the other flavors in a dish.

Of course, I also grow a few kinds of bell and Italian peppers, which pack no heat whatsoever and are versatile for a range of cooking. Despite their refreshing crunch and variety of colors, I find they can be a bit bland at times. That’s why this year I am getting more into poblanos. They’re a good pepper to try if you want something mild but with more flavor than a bell pepper. You could say that they’re halfway in between a bell and a jalapeno.

On the Scoville scale that measures the heat of peppers, poblanos are 1,000 – 1,500 compared to jalapenos that range from 2,500 – 8,000. To give some more context, bell peppers are a 0 on that scale while the hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper, is between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000. In other words, poblanos hardly register for their level of heat. Though, I’ve found that even on the same plant, the heat from one pepper to another can vary greatly, and occasionally you’ll find a poblano that can have a little extra kick.

What I like about poblanos is that they’re thick-skinned, like bells, which makes them good for stuffing and roasting. Averaging about four inches long and two to three inches wide, they’re a decent size, too. But what sets them apart is that they have an earthy and slightly smoky flavor that makes them more interesting than other mild peppers. I also love the shades of purple, black, green, brown, and red they can range as they grow. They’re an attractive plant to add to your garden.

Poblanos originated in the state of Puebla, Mexico where the residents are also referred to as Poblanos. The peppers are used both fresh and dried throughout the country and are one of the country’s most popular. Their dried form is known as an ancho pepper, “ancho” meaning “wide” in Spanish and they develop an appealing smokiness as they dry.

Despite being thousands of miles north from Mexico, poblanos are growing phenomenally in my garden this year. That means I’m getting creative with how to use them. I plan to dry a bunch to have ancho peppers well into winter, but for now, I’m cooking them fresh.

Perhaps the most common use for poblanos is in chiles Rellenos. Translated, that means “stuffed peppers,” and it’s where poblanos are stuffed with cheese, coated in an egg batter and fried. Outside, the coating is crispy while inside the tender pepper, the cheese is wonderfully gooey.

Chiles Rellenos are great for a party where guests can enjoy them freshly fried as an appetizer. But for everyday home cooking, I wanted to make the dish more substantial and practical for dinner. And now that are evenings are cool, I had no problem turning the classic into a baked casserole of sorts.

To start, the poblanos are quickly blackened under the broiler and then left to steam together in a bowl as you prepare the rest of the recipe. This is an easy technique that allows for easy peeling of the peppers. The skins can be tough and difficult to digest, so it’s generally recommended that you peel them before eating. The process also softens the peppers and makes them easy to use.

Chiles Rellenos Casserole

serves 4

4 poblano peppers

½ pound sausage of your choice

½ cup cream cheese softened

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

¼ cup cornmeal

¼ cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup milk

4 eggs

1 teaspoon olive oil

Salsa, for serving

Turn your broiler to high and place the whole poblano peppers on a small baking sheet as closely under the broiler as you can. Allow the skins to char for 2-3 minutes per side. Rotate and repeat so that all of the skin is well blackened. Place the peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the casings from the sausage and in a medium-sized bowl, combine with the cream cheese and half of the cheddar. Stir well to mix it all together.

In another bowl, whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Stream in the milk as you keep whisking, then each of the four eggs.

Peel as much skin off of the peppers as you can, then slice each in half. Remove the stems and seeds. Coat a baking dish (I use an 8-inch by 12-inch dish) with the olive oil and lay four of the halves across the bottom. Spread the sausage and cheese over the peppers, then top with the remaining pepper halves. Pour the batter over everything. Shake the dish a little to distribute the batter around the peppers.

Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese over the dish and place in the oven to bake for about 40 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned on top. Serve in slices, warm, with the salsa on top.

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