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Stuffed Roasted Poblano Peppers with Cashew-Chipotle Sauce

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

This recipe—roasted poblanos stuffed with rice, raisins, and capers, doused in a smoky cashew-based salsa, and baked with cheese—was developed out of my love of several different things:

Love #1: Roasted chilies

So long as you discount the time when he tried to cut steaks out of a frozen chuck roast with a knife and a hammer (which resulted in broken knife shards flying all over the kitchen), or perhaps the time when he cooked us a self-proclaimed "Sichuan feast" which consisted of six variations of ground pork with beans, my dad is a pretty darn decent cook, particularly when it comes to Mexican. His chile rellenos, made with roasted chiles and a properly poofy whipped egg batter, still set the benchmark for the dish in my mind, and are the dish that instilled a deep love of roasted chiles into me from an early age.

Step 2: Wrap the Peppers

In the past, I've had correspondents send me bags of Hatch chiles up from New Mexico* during chile roasting season to keep in my freezer year round for batches of chile verde (or the occasional slopper, and yes, you can make great chile verde even without Hatch chiles).

* I'm always looking for more of this type of correspondent, by the way...

Roasting chiles over an open flame (or under the broiler) loosens their skins, allowing you to peel them, as well as gives them an intense smokiness that enhances their naturally vegetal bitterness. In the absence of Hatch chilies, poblanos do just fine, especially in a dish with so much more going on like this one.

Love #2: The smoky cashew salsa at Empellón cocina

I'm a big fan of Empellón Cocina, Alex Stupak's East Village upscale Mexican restaurant, particularly the smoked cashew salsa you can get on the side. Creamy, spicy, smoky, and a little sweet, it's really glorious stuff.

His version is undoubtedly more complicated, but I've recently taken to making a quickie version of it by grinding cashews toasted in olive oil with smoky chipotle peppers, vinegar, and a few other seasonings. It comes out creamy and smooth in the blender, and the best part is that it bubbles and browns almost like cheese when you bake it, making it ultra-simple to convert this recipe into a 100 percent vegan version.

Love #3: Rice

I'm half Japanese. My wife is Colombian. We eat rice. It's a fact of life.

Step 4: Stuff It

I'm notoriously terrible at making rice without a pressure cooker (that Japanese rice-cooking gene skips a generation, I suppose), but in this case, even with less-than-perfect rice, there's no big deal, as it all gets steamed into tender submission inside a roasted chili anyway. I flavor my rice (which is cooked pilaf-style) with onions and peppers, then stir in some raisins to add sweetness and capers to give you that big briny sucker punch in the mouth.

Love #4: Stuffing things into other things

Do I really need to elaborate on this one?

Love #5: Gooey melty cheese toppings

See explanation for #4 above.

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Once everything is assembled—the chilies roasted, stuffed with the rice pilaf, coated in the cashew salsa, and topped with cheese inside a baking dish or skillet—you could throw it all in the oven and call it a day. But if you want to up the ante (and deliciousness), toss that whole thing on the cool side of a grill with a two-level fire until hot and bubbly.

Dine al fresco. Or else.

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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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