Jalapeño Popper Recipe

My friend Jen is hilarious, an amazing mom, and just about the best cook I know.  She’s not intimidated by anything (Sit-down anniversary dinner for 50?  No problem!)  She cans, freezes, and bakes.  She’s healthy and fit and feeds her family accordingly. Plus, her food is so good that, when we invite her to a party, everyone wonders—hopes—bets on what amazing dish she’ll bring.  I’m telling you this because she brought this Jalapeño Popper Recipe to a party a couple of summers ago. We’ve been making religously since. It’s one of my favorite summer appetizers.

While Traditional Jalapeño Poppers are the consummate bar food—pre-frozen, deep fried, slightly soggy, full of cheese and grease—This Jalapeño Popper Recipe lightens things up a lot.  It starts with fresh peppers, stuffs them with a combination of cheeses, coats them in crunchy panko bread crumbs, and bakes them with no oil or grease.  They are delicious with a cold beer, but you don’t feel at all bogged down after you’ve eaten them.  Instead, you feel like you’ve actually eaten a vegetable.

And August is prime Jalapeño time.  The deep green and spicy peppers come straight from the field, where the hot and dry summer that we’ve had reminds them a lot of where they came from.  Still—a WARNING: There is HEAT involved, especially with the seeds and ribs, so know what you are getting into.  It is much better to wear gloves when cleaning them (especially—experience talking— if you have contacts to pluck out of your eyes later on.).  You can’t just rinse the oil from these babies off of your hands.  Still, this Jalapeño Popper Recipe is completely worth the gloves and the effort, so give it a shot.

Here’s what you’ll need:

A quart of jalapeños
A package of low fat cream cheese (not fat free)
A bag of pre-shredded Mexican cheese blend
A bag of seasoned panko bread crumbs. (If you can’t find seasoned, I’ll tell you how to spice it up)
Three eggs
A Cup of flour

Here’s what you do:

Take your cream cheese out to soften and preheat your oven to 400.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with PAM or some sort of non-stick spray.

Clean your peppers.  Cut the stems off and cut the peppers in half long ways.  Use a knife to scrape out the seeds and ribs.  (If you like things really spicy, you can leave the ribs in.  I remove the ribs as much as I can, which leaves poppers mild enough for the kids to eat.) Wear your gloves throughout this process or at least completely avoid touching your face and eyes.  Also, do not put miscellaneous pepper parts down the garbage disposal because those crazy blades will vaporize spiciness and you will run from your kitchen coughing… Not that I’ve done this…

When you finish, rinse and dry the peppers.

Combine the cream cheese and the shredded cheese.  It should be a paste-y consistency.  Pack the cheese mixture into each pepper.

Now…  A note about Panko: this type of Japanese breadcrumb is crispier and airier than it’s traditional counterpart.  You can get a lot of crunch without the fryer, which makes it perfect breadcrumb choice for healthier recipes.  I mentioned earlier that you would want to buy seasoned Panko for this recipe, but I can tell you that Trader Joe’s, for example, only carries plain.  That’s where I was and what I bought.  I just seasoned them up myself with garlic salt, paprika, cumin, and a little cayenne pepper.

Get ready to bread your peppers.  Put flour in one bowl, eggs beaten with a little water or beer in another, and panko in a third.  Dredge each popper in flour, dip in egg, and then roll in panko, making sure it is completely covered.  Put it cheese side up on the baking sheet, and repeat.

Once all of your poppers are prepared, slide them in the oven for 20 minutes.  When finished, they should be browned and the cheese should be bubbling out just a little bit.  Serve immediately, with Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce or ranch dressing for dipping and cold beer for drinking.  Delicious.

See You at the Market!