And sometimes you *really* feel like a nut.
Today was supposed to be leftovers for lunch day, as there is a container of blackened tilapia with poblano rajas and cream with my name on it in the fridge. Unfortunately (1) I woke up feeling like my head was being slowly crushed in a powerful, needle-lined vise, and I couldn’t make myself get on the subway to go to work, and (2) we don’t have a microwave at home. Plus, no matter how good the fish/poblano/cream combo is (and it is), I just wasn’t feeling the fish for my first post-headache meal this afternoon.
Enter what might be my favorite meal of all time, the cured-meat-and-cheese-no-cooking meal of delight (the CMACNCMOD in shorthand). In this case, the CMACNCMOD was composed of some unidentified but tasty salami that came in an “assorted salami snack pack” from the deli at Garden of Eden; a wedge of Prima Donna, the culmination of all humankind’s cheesemaking efforts; some pecans; some local honey; and a hunk of baguette. Does it get more satisfying?
I submit that it does not, in fact, get any more satisfying.
My love of pork products has already been well-documented in Us vs. Food’s short existence, so there’s no need to go into that. Prima Donna is a gouda-style cheese that is sweet, nutty and complex, with some crystallization throughout (I’m not a cheesemonger, so I don’t know what the actual term for this stuff is); it’s fantastic with honey or a good-quality raspberry jam as well as with nuts.
Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan.
Never let it be said, however, that I never gave you anything. The poblano rajas in my rejected leftover lunch is simple to prepare, fast and versatile. Poblanos are on the mild end of the heat spectrum and have a deep, smoky flavor (when dried, they become ancho or mulatto chiles, key ingredients for many mole sauces). They’re smaller than bell peppers and are a lovely deep forest green color; the richer the color, the deeper the taste.
For the rajas, poblanos are roasted, peeled and cut into strips, and then quickly sauteed with onions, garlic, thyme and Mexican oregano. The rajas can be eaten on its own, but it really shines when introduced to dairy; poblanos and dairy have a magical affinity for one another. Adding a splash of cream to the rajas creates a quick pan sauce that’s exceptionally good over pan-roasted, grilled or blackened fish. Stirring the rajas into a cheese sauce results in a luscious, thick sauce that is fantastic over seafood or smoked chicken enchiladas or as a warm cheese dip.
Mmmmm. Cheese dip.
Best of all, when poblanos are in season and look particularly good, you can roast, peel and slice more than you need and stash the excess in the freezer. Pick up some fish on the way home from work, grab the cream, onion and garlic that should be basic elements of your pantry and fridge, and you have all the makings of a delicious 5-minute dinner. All these recipes can be scaled up or down indefinitely.
Poblano Rajas with Variations
3 medium poblano peppers
1 medium onion
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or 1tsp. fresh)
1/2 tsp. Mexican oregano
Roast the peppers on the stove, under a broiler or on the grill until the skins are blackened and charred. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; the steam from the hot peppers will help loosen the skin further and make them easier to peel.
While the peppers are resting, slice the onion into half-moons and mince the garlic. Put a pan over medium heat and add the oil, onion and garlic; saute for 3-4 minutes. Peel the poblanos and discard the cores and seeds. Slice into strips and add to the pan of onions. Add the oregano and cook for 3-4 more minutes, until onions are translucent and the flavors start to come together and make your kitchen smell good.
Poblano Rajas Cream Sauce:
1 c. prepared rajas
1/3 c. chicken stock (optional)
1/4 c. heavy cream
s&p to taste
Prepare your protein (fish, chicken and portobellos would all be good) however you want. If you’re cooking on the stove, remove the protein from the pan and pour in the stock to deglaze; stir for a few minutes until all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan are dissolved and the stock is mostly evaporated. Add the rajas to the pan to reheat, and pour in the cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook for a few minutes until the cream reduces by about 1/3. Pour the rajas cream over the protein and chow down.
Poblano Rajas Cheese Sauce for a Crowd:
2 c. prepared poblano rajas
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. all purpose flour
3 c. milk, half and half, or a combination (depending on how strong your death wish is), heated
10 oz. grated Oaxaca or other Mexican melting cheese (available in many grocery stores; monterey jack or pepper jack is also fine)
pinch of fresh nutmeg
s&p to taste
Add the butter to a medium sauce pan over medium heat. When the butter is melted and the foaming has subsided, add the flour and stir together to make a roux; cook this for a few minutes so there’s no raw floury taste in the final product (if your roux starts to take on color, turn it down; it should remain pale).
Pour in the milk and whisk to combine. Allow the mixture to come to a gentle boil; at this point, the roux will thicken the milk into a creamy sauce. Add the cheese and whisk to melt and combine, then add the nutmeg and stir in the rajas. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper if needed. Enjoy.