Healthy stuffed poblano peppers (Photo/Nina Terrero)

A healthy idea: stuffed poblano peppers

It’s rare that you meet someone who doesn’t love a deliciously over-stuffed, cheesy fried chile rellenos stuffed to nearly gargantuan proportions. It’s a dish that Tex-Mex roadside joints made famous, using savory poblano peppers are loaded up with creamy cheese, then bathed in a beer or egg batter and deep-fried until crisp and smothered in green chile or cream sauce.

Sounds delicious, right? But it also sounds like a recipe for a heart attack, which unfortunately is a startling reality for Latinos, who suffer from disproportionately high levels of cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. And while there’s a number of ways to reduce the risk of those illnesses, the easiest way to do so is through making simple, healthy changes to your diet.

And so, the next time you’re craving a spicy platter of stuffed peppers, consider our healthy option instead. The peppers are baked instead of fried, which helps retain their savory, toothsome bite. Fresh produce – beautifully colorful zucchini, red and yellow peppers – add a hefty dose of A and B vitamins, while the addition of red onion, garlic, jalapeño and a sauce of simple roasted tomatoes amp up the flavor without added fat. Low-sodium beans add filling, heart-healthy protein to the dish and the cheese? Well, there’s no getting around the fact that it keeps this dish downright delicious, but feel free to experiment with your favorite cheese blends: mozzarella, quesillo or even goat cheese would all be appetizing options. And although I made my version vegetarian, feel free to add leftover grilled meat, turkey picadillo or homemade chorizo to make this recipe your own.

Stuffed poblano peppers

4 green poblano peppers

¼ cup long grain brown jasmine rice, cooked according to directions on package

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small jalapeño pepper, minced

2 cups of monterey jack and cheddar cheese blend, divided in half

2 medium zucchini, cut into small cubes

1 large red pepper, cut into thin ¼ in pieces

1 large yellow pepper, cut into thin ¼ in pieces

½ cup yellow corn kernels (use fresh or frozen)

1 15 oz can low sodium black beans

1 15 oz can low sodium roasted, diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Optional: Leftover turkey picadillo, crumbled tofu, cubed grilled chicken or steak or cooked chorizo

1. Add olive to a large sauce pan, and bring to medium heat. Sautee chopped onions, minced garlic and jalapeño until onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). Add remaining veggies and cook until just crisp. Add seasonings, adjusting salt and pepper to taste. While the vegetables are cooking on the stove, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Remove saucepan from heat and add brown rice. If desired, add your choice of meat. Stir to mix and add one cup of cheese to mixture.

3. Scrub poblano peppers clean and carefully slice lengthwise. If desired, remove seeds (the seeds will add additional heat to the finished stuffed peppers).

4. Crack open the can of tomatoes and using a spatula, spread evenly on the bottom of a 12 x 12 inch baking pan. Scoop about a ¼ cup of the brown rice-vegetable mixture into each poblano half and add to baking pan. Repeat process until you have stuffed all 8 pepper halves (keep peppers in a single layer in the baking pan). Sprinkle peppers with remaining cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 25 minutes. During the last five minutes of baking, remove foil and allow the cheese to brown slightly. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve while hot.

If desired, serve with lime wedges and top with non-fat yogurt or low-fat sour cream. Serves four.

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