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Poblano Peppers
by Melissa Biggs

Publication: 1998

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FLICKR ALBUM: World Food


"Excuse me, ma'am, but can you tell me what these are called," I asked the impeccably dressed woman next to me at the mushroom stall. My prior trips to Mexico City had all occurred during the dry months of January or February. I didn't know the city when it was green and the markets full of rainy season delicacies: squash blossoms, huitlacoche, and countless varieties of mushrooms. The previous week's excursion to the Jamaica market introduced me to a large brown specimen the vendor called by an indigenous name my sometimes clumsy hearing could not capture even after four repititions. I bought half a kilo--I'll buy half a kilo of practically anything--and faithfully followed the laborious preparation process she had described: peeling the caps, then poaching them to remove bitterness before draining and sauteeing them with garlic and a bit of chili. The resulting guiso remained somewhat bitter to my taste, but I was intrigued. What other sorts of mushroom treats awaited me? And thus I found myself at the San Juan market, surrounded by basket after basket of mushrooms I had never seen.

"Ah, guapa, I will tell you these are the best mushrooms in the world. I am Catalan. Where I am from these are called robellon, who knows what they say here. You fix them very simply, you don't want to cover the flavor. But first you must clean them very carefully, there are tiny worms that live in the caps. So you break them open, like this--"she gently split the cap of the mushroom in her hand--"and you take the worm out like this." With a delicate pull she removed a white worm scarcely an eighth of an inch long from the cap. "Then you chop just a little garlic, sautee it in olive oil, and add the robellon--cook it just until the juice comes out, guapa, not any more. It is a perfect dish!" And so a handful of robellon found their way into my bag, followed by a quarter kilo of bright red tecomate recommended by the robellon-lover's maid, who quietly corrected the señora's naming of various species: "Bueno, she says that, but WE say."

I left with six small bags of mushrooms and the necessary accompaniments. Now as anyone who has ever inquired in a market for cooking advice knows, you will receive as many different recommendations as there are cooks. So I had the little squash recommended by one, the epazote essential to another, the poblano peppers a third said I could not do without. The only point of agreement seemed to be olive oil and garlic. Back at the apartment, I decided to experiment a bit. The resulting mushroom-stuffed roasted poblanos were happily consumed by a pair of mushroom lovers.

NOTE: The mushrooms available in the markets I visited were gathered wild. I was sometimes told two or three names for one variety, depending on who I asked. Because I am not myself a trained mycologist, I did not attempt to translate any of the names into their English equivalents; I found my own memory of what particular varieties looked like too unreliable to identify them with certitude. Shiitake mushrooms are not as prohibitively expensive as most varieties of "specialty" mushrooms and taste delicious. And button mushrooms, while they will not have as pronounced a flavor as wild, taste good too.

Roasted Poblano Peppers with Wild Mushroom Stuffing

For the peppers:

  • 2 Poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded

  • You can roast the peppers one of two ways: either in the broiler of a gas oven, or over the flame of a gas burner. When I am roasting more than one pepper, I find it most convenient to use the broiler. Turn the peppers as the sides char. Place the roasted peppers in a plastic bag to cool. The steam will help the skin loosen. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, you can rub the skin off with your fingers. You might want to wear rubber gloves to handle the chilis. And be sure not to touch your eyes! Then carefully slit each chili up one side and remove the seeds. Set aside.

For the stuffing:

  • olive oil

  • a small yellow onion, diced

  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely diced

  • 8 oz wild mushrooms

  • 2 young zucchini, thin and not very long, diced

  • 2 medium Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

  • 2 cups cooked rice

Pour just enough olive oil into a 10 or 12 inch skillet to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat over low flame. When hot, add the onion. As the onion softens, add the garlic. As the garlic turns golden, add the zucchini. The zucchini skin will turn bright green; when this happens, gently fold in the mushrooms. Add the tomatoes when the juice just begins to run out of the mushrooms. Stir gently, cooking until the tomatoes wilt. Remove from heat and combine the vegetables with the rice. Spoon the filling generously into the prepared poblanos. I served these plain, but you can also make a simple sauce by sauteeing a couple of peeled tomatoes in some olive oil with a bit of garlic.


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