This healthy, baked jalapeño poppers recipe is a nutritious alternative to the deep-fried treat. Spicy chillies stuffed with smoked feta chees, chipotle and creamy Greek yoghurt.
Jalapeño poppers do not have a long culinary history over here in Europe but nonetheless, I do love them so. In fact, in my processed food-loving past, I used to buy packets of them from my local discount supermarket, then bake and eat the lot. For dinner. Oh dear.
Those days are firmly and gloriously behind me now, but my love of jalapeño poppers is not. So how could I update this delicious Mexican-American bar snack to make it acceptable for a made-from-scratch, vegetable-heavy, whole grain diet?
The first step was to start with lots of lovely, fresh chillies. When you eat this many of them, they definitely count as a vegetable!
Then, onto the filling. I wanted the filling for these healthy, baked jalapeño poppers to be creamy and cheesy, but not too heavy, so I started with a base of neutral cream cheese and built from there. Next followed a couple of tablespoons of Greek yoghurt to lighten the mixture, while still retaining the luscious creaminess.
I really cannot get enough of Greek yoghurt. I cannot believe how similar it is to the gorgeous but decadent crème fraîche or to sour cream. It's not the same, of course, in particular it doesn't offer the same melting properties, but it certainly fulfills any need I have for creamy tang in a meal. Mmmmmmm, creamy tang. It definitely worked here.
I also wanted really great flavour in the filling. Something smoky and perhaps a little meaty to make the healthy, baked jalapeño poppers really stand out. Enter smoked feta. You may have seen a post I published earlier about home-smoked feta, using one of my favourite kitchen gadgets, my cold-smoker. Cold-smoking is a super-fun technique to experiment with and one that yields absolutely wonderful smoked cheeses. Smoked feta is a thing of beauty, a superb seasoning for vegetarian food - salty, umami, smoky, meaty. It really lifts many a dish. And for jalapeño poppers, a revelation.
But I wasn't quite finished yet. Although the smoky flavour was already pretty pronounced, I couldn't quite resist adding a little complementary chipotle en adobo, a Mexican flavour sensation. For those who are unfamiliar with its charms, it is smoked jalapeños packed in tangy tomato-chilli sauce and preserved in little tins for your delight and delectation. They are a great match for the smoked feta and an excellent counterpoint to the creamy cheese and yoghurt.
Finally a few of my go-to seasonings - crushed garlic, lemon juice and black pepper.
As the chillies would not be plunged into boiling oil, I decided to cook them a little first to soften them before filling.
After that, I piped in the filling. If you don't have disposable piping bags in your kitchen yet, you should. They are very, very useful for many a fiddly, messy task. It may be a little wasteful to throw them away afterwards, but it is also cleaner, more hygienic and much, much, much easier. Forget using a plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Get the real deal. You will be happy and feel oh so professional!
Lastly, a key change for making healthy, baked jalapeño poppers was to cut out the deep frying. I am not completely averse to deep-frying - used correctly, this technique often allows only a little more fat to be absorbed by the food than shallow-frying or sautéing. But I've always felt that this isn't so true for very dry, textured or absorbent foods, such as falafel or breaded treats (with this in mind check out my revolutionary recipe for no mess, stream-fried falafel - much less fat and oil!). Jalapeño poppers unfortunately fit this bill.
So baking it is! I was pleasantly surprised when I first started testing this recipe - the texture of a baked, breaded crust is still excellently crispy. I didn't feel deprived - the ultimate goal of healthy eating! To form the crust I used some whole wheat and rye sourdough bread, ground to breadcrumbs in a food processor. These were firmly adhered with a quick dip in whole wheat flour and beaten egg. Nothing terribly unhealthy there either.
The result was fabulous with mmmmmmms of approval from the various family members I experimented on. Crispy and light on the outside. Creamy and smooth on the inside. With many lovely layers of piquant flavour from the smoke, the chilli, the lemon and the garlic. Nom!
Baked jalapeño poppers
- 20-30 fresh jalapeños depending on size
- 100 g cream cheese
- 50 g smoked feta
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 whole chipotle en adobo
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 eggs beaten with a splash of water
- 100 g whole wheat flour
- 150 g/2 large slices whole grain sourdough bread toasted or stale
- Preheat the oven to 200c. Slice each chilli in half lengthways and gently scrape out the seeds, keeping the shape of the chilli intact as best you can. Arrange in a single layer on a baking tray and roast for about 20 minutes, until softened but not charred. Remove from the oven (leave the oven on) and allow to cool.
- While the chillies are cooling, mix all the other ingredients, except the egg, flour and breadcrumbs until well combined. Transfer to a piping bag and pipe the mixture into the cavities of the hollowed out chillies.
- Grind the bread to breadcrumbs with a food processor and transfer to a wide, shallow bowl. Add the flour to another bowl and the egg mixture to a third bowl. Working one at a time, roll each chilli first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs, pressing the breadcrumbs a little to adhere. Transfer to a baking sheet, cheese side up. Return to the oven and bake for a further 20-30 minutes, until the crust is set and crispy and the breadcrumbs are lightly browned. Serve immediately.