Thursday, March 20, 2008

Food Blogging

Updated below: Thursday, 10:00PM

Most people in Alabama, Indiana and points north and east probably think that Taco Bell serves Mexican food. I shudder at the thought. While some of Taco Bell’s food is tasty and it shares many ingredients with Mexican food, I can assure you it most certainly is not Mexican food. It’s sort of like claiming that spaghetti with tomato sauce is Italian food, or Chop Suey is Chinese food. The natives of those lands would look at any of that and utter the Spanish/Italian/Chinese version of “Oh, yeccch.”

In any case, the term “Mexican food” is too all-encompassing. Mexico is not as large as this country, but it is by no means a small nation and their cuisine is every bit as regionally varied as ours is.

The chimichanga was developed in Sonora, for instance, to serve the desires of cowboys who wanted a hot lunch. The rest of the country wraps various things in a flour tortilla, omits putting it in a pot of boiling lard and serves up a burro. Arizona restaurants mostly serve up really good chimichangas because the cooks come up from Sonora. So many Arizona tourists have been coming to San Diego that the restaurants here are now serving chimichangas too, but the cooks mostly come from Baja California and don’t really know how to make them. You are probably better off ordering fish tacos in San Diego.

There are exceptions, of course. Ponce’s in San Diego makes a pretty good chimichanga. Nobody fries them in lard any more, of course, because people in this country view lard with something approaching a state of quivering horror.

Chili Relleno, the subject of today’s recipe, is basically a mild green chili stuffed with cheese, battered and fried. It has wide variation, though. In New Mexico the batter would be corn meal-based and it would not be uncommon for the stuffing to include meat. In Arizona the batter will be flour based and the cheese usually a mild Jack cheese. In San Diego there's wide variation, and what you get sometimes doesn’t seem to have either chili or batter in it’s makeup. You’re probably better off ordering fish tacos in San Diego.

When I was growing up, canned Ortega Chilis were not available where we lived and so when we went on our annual camping trip to the Rockies we always came back with a couple of cases of these treasures. They are a reliably mild chili, available in two sized cans and in either whole or diced. Today’s recipe calls for the larger sized can of whole chilis.

The recipe is called Chili Relleno, but it actually isn’t that at all. (So it probably could be served in a San Diego restaurant.) It has no batter and it’s baked rather than fried, which makes it a bit more healthy I guess. The point of it, I think, is that it’s much easier to cook. My Mom was always big on the “easy” part of cooking; I learned all the complicated dishes from my Grandmother.

In fairness, I should point out that you do not want to order fish tacos in Arizona or New Mexico. You do want to order them in San Diego.

Chili Rellenos

1 can Ortega Chilis
Cheese (I use medium Cheddar, Jack would be better)
2 eggs
1 tbsp oil

Wrap the chilis around pieces of cheese. Place in a glass baking dish. Whip oil and eggs together. Pour over chilis and arrange as needed to be sure chilis are covered. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Not one of my more complicated or difficult recipes. Enjoy.

Update: Thursday, 10:00PM
Lest it appear that I am denigrating Mexican restaraunts in San Diego, one of the best culinary experiences I have ever had has been eating carnitas at the Old Town Mexican Cafe in San Diego. It is located, appropriately enough, in Old Town, and the tortillas made on the premises are worth the trip all by themselves. Sadly, they don't sell them to take home.


  1. Yep, that would be the one I was raised on. But once you feed your family the ones where they get to play with the blow torch first and then there is hot oil and frying stuff on the camp stove, it is hard to go back.....

  2. DTE says the blow torch is the best part.

  3. After growing up on what you describe (same mother, after all), I once ordered Chili Relleno (I can't remember where) and got what I grew up calling stuffed peppers - green bell pepper with a rice & meat (not chili) stuffing. It was a "Mexican" restaurant. Not.
    I agree with Barbara, that way is probably better, but some of us don't have blow torches, and when quick & easy is what is called for - your (our?)recipe fits. However, sometimes I lay out the chilies, put cheese on top, then cover with a like sized chili. Even easier!!!

  4. Anonymous10:10 PM

    yup, these are the ones.. I roasted chilis on the grill or over the stove (can't say I ever did it on a campfire or with a blowtorch, but that would be fun).