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BLOG—Mini pepper poppers, off book

I’ve always known I would never be a real chef, simply because I move too cotton pickin’ slow in the kitchen. I’m messy as all get out too, evidenced by the noodles that hang on the undersides of the upper cabinets and the drip marks that stain the bottom ones. Messy can be okay as long as it’s an organized mess. But with me the mess is a symptom of the confusion I often feel when I’m trying to follow a recipe, which is across the room from the cup of milk I just poured to the brim, to verify if it was ¾ C or 1-1/4 C I was supposed to mix in.

That’s why it’s always good to get away from the page sometimes and go with your gut. Especially during peak harvest time, when there are copious amounts of a small variety of vegetables that your garden can’t seem to tire of, the call for creativity can be dire. For us this week it was all about peppers. They came from our weekly co-op box — piles of the cutest three-inch fingerlings in yellow, red and purple. Shaped just like jalapeños, though unfortunately not as spicy, I thought of chiles relleños, or the Americanized version, jalapeño poppers.

Jalapeno poppers, those deep-fried cheese-gushing fireballs, are spectacular. But round about the fourth one, I tend to start feeling a little sick to my stomach. It’s nearly a fried cheese curd (which should make you sick before you even open your mouth), except there’s a thin layer of hot pepper in between the cheese and the fry, which adds both acid and spice to balance out the inner pouches of salty fat. But what if you want more than four, and in fact you want to make a meal out of all the work you’re about to put into making them? The solution I found was to add veggies and meat to the cheese, taking the whole thing back to a chili relleño. Oh, the pepper should still gush when you bite into it, but it should be heavily flecked with something other than just cheese.

On the day we got the peppers, we also happened to have in the co-op box lots of kale, shallots, and parsley, and, definitely not from the box, I hate to admit, Hormel pepperoni. So here is my version of pepper poppers. They’re easier than they sound, and especially if you’re not following the recipe too closely, take only about an hour to make. Actually that was me. You could probably do it in 30 minutes flat.

20 finger peppers or jalapenos
4 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, minced (if using finger peppers)
1 t cumin powder
1 t chili powder
½ t salt
1-2 C shredded kale or other leafy green
½ C pepperoni (optional)
2 C shredded sharp cheddar or feta

2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ C corn meal
oil for frying

Dry-roast the peppers whole in a heavy skillet, covered, or in an oven until starting to blacken in spots and get slightly soft (overcooked ones will be difficult to stuff).

While waiting for the peppers, chop the veggies and sauté with the spices and salt until wilted. Remove from heat and add cheese and if desired, pepperoni.

Start heating the oil. Make a small slit lengthwise down the peppers and dig out the seeds with your finger (if using jalapenos, better do it with a knife!). Stuff the cheese mixture into the peppers and dip each one in egg and then cornmeal, and fry for several minutes, turning occasionally.

If you have salsa and sour cream on hand, why not?

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