I’ll never forget watching my mom’s routine around 6 p.m. every weeknight. Juggling both a full-time career and large family, Mami came home from work and just “a few” after-school carpools for four children and headed straight to the kitchen. You didn’t have to ask “what’s for dinner?” because my organized mother typed and posted the week’s menu by the yellow rotary phone in the kitchen. While meals were always heavy on meat and chicken per my father’s request, everything was fresh, and she made sure to include a veggie and/or salad. And, to keep us quiet before all was ready, homemade corn tortillas and traditional guacamole.
The dinner menus were predominantly Mexican (not Tex-Mex): carne guisadas (stewed beef), picadillo (ground beef with potatoes and carrots) chuletas de puerco (pork chops), arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), meatloaf (not a fan of meat baked into the shape of bread, I had extra tortillas and guac on meatloaf night), and steaks, skirt steak and chicken grilled over coals.
While her Joy of Cooking cookbook was grease-splattered and dog-eared, my mother didn’t have time for fancy or complicated, so if there were too many steps, we weren’t having it. I never watched her make tamales, enchiladas or chiles rellenos, because hey, tacos!
I’ve since learned to make tamales and enchiladas on my own, but chiles rellenos – stuffed poblano peppers – have always seemed like too much work for a weeknight.
My mother would be proud to know I recently took the plunge and stuffed my first poblano pepper. Typically filled with ground beef, dipped in batter and fried, or covered in a walnut cream sauce for a chile relleno en nogada, there are obviously a few reasons I haven’t prepped or (confession) eaten the traditional Mexican version.
This modern, vegan, gluten-free, and much more nutritious take happened by chance after I spotted large poblano peppers at the grocery store. I originally thought about stuffing them with rice and beans, but came home and remembered I had plenty of leftover lentil walnut taco meat after a deliciously vegan taco night. The lentil-walnut combo has been one of my favorite recipes to date – until now. In poblano peppers, this vegan taco “meat” is amazing. Sean walked into the kitchen and wondered why I was cooking chorizo.
To roast the poblano peppers, roast directly on the stovetop or a grill/grill pan until charred. Turn frequently so they char but stay firm tender. Place in a plastic bag to sweat, then remove the peel with your hands. Carefully cut a slit into the peeled pepper and remove the seeds.
Lentils are cooked until just al dente, then sautéed in onions, garlic, peppers. After tossing with a generous handful of cilantro and this yummy walnut taco meat, the mix is incredibly flavorful. It’s great eaten alone with a few cubes of avocado, on almond flour tortillas, and especially in poblano peppers.
To save time, try prepping one of the ingredients ahead of time – cook the lentils or make the walnut meat, or roast and peel the peppers. All do great on the fridge. The final assembly is very easy, so I usually make the ingredients ahead of time, then stuff the peppers and pop in the oven to heat before serving. Note: this recipe make a lot of taco meat (about 8 cups). I love the leftovers, but you can easily prep half the recipe.
- 16 ounces dried black lentils, rinsed and cooked al dente, according to package directions
- 1 tsp olive, coconut or olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, small dice
- 1 T salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 T chili powder
- 1 tsp cayenne (or more to taste)
- cilantro, 1 cup (save some for garnish)
- 8-10 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeds removed
- walnut taco meat
- After cooking the lentils, drain and set aside.
- Sauté the onion, garlic, and jalapeño peppers in the olive oil until softened and add the salt, pepper, chili powder and cayenne pepper.
- Gently fold in the lentils and mix with the cilantro.
- Add the walnut taco meatand adjust spices if necessary.
- Make a slit in the poblano peppers, and fill with the lentil walnut taco meat. Top with the avocado crema.
- 1 avocado
- 1 jalapeno, stem and seeds removed
- juice of one lime
- 1 garlic clove
- ⅓-1/2 cup water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ tsp salt
- Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend on medium high until well blended. Adjust the water if necessary to achieve desired consistency.