14 May 2012

Zarela Martinez and a Different Kind of Chile Relleno

I am late posting this tribute to Zarela Martinez. I almost skipped this last week's exercise in researching and blogging to the 47th game changer, but I found a recipe of hers that sounded so delicious and seemed so unique that I had to go ahead ... lateness, be damned.

Image: San Diego RED file photo

If you haven't already visited the other women who have posted their tributes to Ms. Martinez or if you're new to the 50 Woman Game Changer blogshare posts, visit Mary's most recent post at One Perfect Bite to see more about Zarela Martinez and her incredible recipes.

Zarela Martinez was born and raised in Mexico, but made her way to the restaurants of El Paso, Texas where she established a kitchen presence and a reputation for interpreting Mexican regional cuisine. She later moved to New York City in the 80's where she opened her own restaurant , Zarela. It became a favorite of many local celebrities and food writers and was known for its high-quality authentic Mexican fare. Ms. Martinez closed the restaurant in 2011, but remains active in catering, giving cooking lessons, writing and consulting on traditional Mexican cuisine, and making guest appearances. Her website is a wealth of information and includes foods and images of the different distinct states of Mexico.

Image : courtesy of Albany Times-Union

... get firm and smooth peppers that have a crispy look

This afternoon, I fired up the broiler and blackened four Poblano chile peppers. While they blackened and then steamed a bit to loosen the skins, I make a piquant Salsa de Tomate Asado with Muir's Glen fire-roasted tomato sauce, a Serrano chile, a shallot, a bit of butter, some salt and pepper, and some half&half. The sauce bubbled a bit and then it was turned off to let the spicy heat develop. This sauce is my favorite little recipe that I got God knows where and changed God knows how. I love it!

Salsa de Tomate Asado


1- 14 oz can Muir's Glen tomato sauce
1 serrano chile, minced, seeds,veins, and all
1 small shallot, minced
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. butter
3 tbsp. light cream or half&half
Kosher salt and black pepper

To make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the pepper and shallot and fry for about one minute to soften and free up the vapors in the pepper. Add the tomato sauce and lower the heat, letting the sauce come to a bubble. Drop the butter in and stir to melt and incorporate into the sauce. add the salt and pepper and taste ... then add the cream ands tir to incorporate. Let bubble foir a few minutes, stirring so it doesn't stick. turn the heat off and cover the pan. Set it aside to let the flavours develop.

Note: This sauce is excellent for chiles rellenos, added to rice dishes, stirred into beans, and over fried turkey cutlets.

This filling recipe came from Zarela Martinez's website. Zarela didn't include a recipe for her sauce. She just talked about the chicken filling for her chile rellenos and the fact that they were not floured and fried, but slowly roasted and then topped with a light tomato sauce. She also said that the dish was a real favorite of Robert Palmer (one of my fave 80's crooners) when he visited her restaurant in NYC. To read her post on the experience, hit the link. Needless to say, I was sold on making this take ... with my little spin on things. I did some research on chicken piccadillo and found another recipe that had chopped almonds in it. I liked that idea so I put them into the filling mix. I didn't want the filling too sweet, so I left out raisins and prunes and peaches  and used dried apricots, garlic, and a mild salsa with some spices.

... while the peppers roast, make some steamed rice 

So, about the meat ... I used chicken thighs for this dish, as I really believe that they hold their moisture and are more flavourful than the basic chicken breast. The recipe made more than enough filling for four poblanos, so I tucked the remainder around the peppers and covered the pan loosely with foil. It was roasted for about 30 minutes, while I made a big pan of rice and a steamed vegetable. I toyed with making re-fried beans, but we really didn't need them ... so they can wait for another time.

This dish was so delicious. It's a sweet and nutty take on chile rellenos, as you'll see if you take a look at the recipe. I am sold on it, as it gives you a stuffed chile without all the fat and oils from frying, no fatty cheese, and it's chock full of fruit and vegetables. Perfect for me and my diet (sorry, but I'm livin' it these days!). You know? They only thing about this recipe ... it's a whole lotta orange and I have been eating a whole lotta orange stuff of late. Really! Just look at the past two weeks! Totally worth it, though!

Poblanos Rellenos


4 poblanos chiles
1 lb. chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
2 tsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. dried apricots, minced
1/4 c. slivered almonds, toasted
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper
1 c. mild salsa ( I used a store brand, but I would have liked to use homemade)
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped

Making the Dish:

1. Prepare a Salsa Tomate de Asado and set it aside for topping the dish.

2. Broil the poblanos until all sides are blackened. Remove from the oven and place them under a bowl for 15 minutes.

3. Prepare an oven-proof pan by rubbing the bottom with a small amount of olive oil.

4. Peel the skins from the cooled peppers and cut around the stem at the top of each pepper. make a slit down the length of the pepper and gently open it to take out the seeds and veins. Lay the peppers in the prepared pan and set aside.

5. Heat a large fry pan and add the olive oil. When the pan smokes a bit, add the chicken thighs and sear on all sides.

6. Add the minced garlic and apricots and toss among the chicken pieces for one minute.

7. add the cumin, cinnamon, salt, and black pepper, stirring to coat the meat and moisten the spices completely.

8 Add the mild salsa and the slivered almonds. Lower the heat and cover the pan to let the chicken fiinish cooking ... about ten minutes.

9. Remove the chicken pieces one at a time and chop the meat up into small pieces. return to the pan and stir to coat well with the sauce.

10. Place spoonfuls of meat into each poblano and fold the peppers closed. Spoon dollops of any extra filling in around the stuffed peppers, cover loosely with foil and place in a 300 degree Farenheit. oven for about 20 minutes. meanwhile re-heat the pan of Salsa de Tomate Asado.

11. To serve, spoon a bit of the Asado over each pepper and over the extra filling and serve with a big bowl of steamed rice.


  1. It is never tool ate to create a winner Susan. I love this recreation!

  2. This looks delicious and that always trumps late!

  3. I'm so glad you decided to post. Your interpretation of the recipe looks fabulous. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  4. While I do love a traditional chiles rellenos, this one sounds fabulous. The filling, your sauce...all of it! And how much fun that it was a favorite of Robert Palmer's. Perhaps this was the love he was addicted to... lol, okay...that was bad. ;P

  5. These chile rellenos sound fabulous, not the typical one I've seen, but even better.


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