We are big fans of Tex-Mex food in the Oplt house. And we love those classic stuffed poblano peppers with cheesy potatoes that you can find in good Mexican restaurants. There are enough meat and vegetarian versions of this dish to keep both me and my hubby satisfied. So when my market farmers started showing up with big green and red poblanos….well, you know we are headed to the border via my kitchen.
We are, however, making a detour back home in Illinois so that I can introduce you to a new acquaintance. His name is Blake Gerard, and he is currently the only farmer in Illinois growing rice—beautiful brown and white non-GMO varieties that contain significantly higher amounts of protein than conventional brands.
Like many of the people featured on Green Gal of the Midwest, Blake is tied to the land through family and commitment to sustainability. He named his rice after the Cahokia Indian tribes who first farmed the fertile land near the Mississippi that has been the site of Blake’s family farm for four generations. What makes Blake unique and his operation environmentally sustainable is the switch he made from more common commodity crops like corn and wheat to this high-end rice.
His location close to the Mississippi River provides his fields with natural and efficient irrigation for the already nutrient-rich soil. He adds to this “best-in-class soil conservation practices”. The result is the elimination of erosion, guaranteeing the preservation of his soil and its rich fertility for generations to come. Through sustainable techniques, Blake’s Cahokia Rice reduces the farm’s environmental footprint, as well as the price to his customers for this superior product.
I bought a 32-ounce bag for just $5. Amazingly good, this rice is guaranteed to be milled and packaged in small batches. It performed just beautifully in the following recipe—and you know me, kinda picky about my rice. At Cahokia Rice, Blake and his team are committed to providing fresh, locally grown rice to the southern Illinois community and beyond, priding themselves as an “authentic farm to table provider”.
And about all the peppers—the poblanos are from Biver Farm and The Family Garden. The habanero—a strikingly pretty peach color—and the sweet bells are from Daydream Farm. Just a bunch of fiery friends making great food! Like them all on Facebook and support them at the Land of Goshen Community Market. We’ll just need to convince Cahokia Rice to put up a market booth in Edwardsville.
So get out a big skillet—this dish has a couple of make-ahead steps, but it is basically one-pot, once the peppers are blackened and the rice is chilling in the frig. You can start this dish ahead if need be and finish it up later in the day…or even the next day. Further, stuffing peppers is so labor intensive, don’t ya think? So why bother. Here they are nestled into the beautiful rice mixture just long enough to get cozy and warm and then scooped onto the plate. Gotta love that!
- Four large poblano peppers, either green or red or both, blackened and skinned
- Two cups cooked brown rice (I toasted mine in some unrefined, organic peanut oil until aromatic, used vegetable stock for cooking liquid and then chilled it for several hours—amazing texture.)
- Five cardamom pods (This is a lot—especially when toasted as they are here. If you are not super-fond of this heady spice, use less or don’t use any—totally your call. If you follow this recipe with five pods, cardamom will be the dominant spice.)
- One tablespoon cumin seeds
- One tablespoon whole coriander seeds
- Zest from one medium lemon
- One quarter-cup unrefined, organic peanut oil
- One cup chopped yellow onion
- Four cloves garlic, chopped
- One large or two small sweet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, diced (You’ll want them diced small so that they have time to cook through.)
- Two sweet red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
- Two small green zucchini, chopped
- One small habanero or jalapeño, seeded and minced fine (Habanero will give you more heat—our choice.)
- Juice from one lemon
- Splash apple cider vinegar
- Coarse sea salt to taste
- Jalapeno jack or Manchego cheese (optional)
- Diced avocado (optional)
- Diced fresh heirloom tomato (optional)
- I strongly prefer toasting my rice—and Cahokia rice works beautifully for this. So begin by heating a little bit of oil (your choice) in a heavy-duty medium sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add one cup of rice, a generous sprinkle of sea salt and stir. Once you can smell the rice toasting and see it beginning to darken, add two cups of liquid, stir well and bring it to a rapid boil. Place the lid on top, turn the heat to low and leave it alone for at least 40 minutes, until all the liquid is gone and the rice is tender and flaky. I used homemade vegetable stock. You can cook it in water, but why when you can add more flavor? Chicken stock will also be quite nice here, if you are not vegetarian.
- Spread the cooked rice on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill for at least one hour up to overnight.
- I do this step on either my cast iron griddle or on the grill. Whatever works for you. Just oil your surface, heat it up and place the washed poblanos whole on the cooking surface, turning to blacken on all sides. Once they are nicely charred all over, sweat them in a clean paper sack for about 30 minutes to help you remove the blackened skin. Slice in half and remove all the seeds. Then set them aside or refrigerate until needed.
- Put the cardamom pods, cumin seeds and coriander seeds in a dry cast iron skillet and toast over medium heat until they become aromatic, about three minutes. Mind so they don’t burn, shaking the skillet or stirring the spices as needed. Remove the cardamom seeds from their pods and crush all the seeds and spices with the lemon zest in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
- Heat the quarter-cup peanut oil in a large chef’s skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic with a big dash of coarse sea salt and sauté until tender, about five minutes.
- Add the diced sweet potato and a dash more salt. Stir well and cover for about five minutes to help cook the potatoes.
- Once these vegetables are tender and have accumulated a nice shine, add the bell peppers and the zucchini, salt and stir. Cook for about five minutes.
- Now add the toasted spices and the minced habanero. Stir well and continue to cook for one or two minutes to allow the spices and the hot pepper to bloom. If the skillet is starting to get too dry, you can add a bit more oil or even some stock—less is more here.
- At this point add in the cooked and chilled rice, stirring until well combined. Cook for a few minutes to warm the rice and then add in the poblano pepper halves, settling them into the rice mixture and covering with a lid for a couple of minutes. Do a taste test for salt and pepper—add if necessary, but I doubt if you’ll need any black pepper. Just saying…
- Near the very end, sprinkle in the lemon juice and the splash of apple cider vinegar. Stir around and remove from heat.
- To plate, place two poblano pepper halves on each plate and mound in the rice and vegetable mixture. Top each with suggested toppings of cheese, avocado and/or tomato, as desired.
Obviously prep and cook time depend on how you decided to prepare this dish--in one day or two days. The prep time above is the approximate time it takes to assemble and cut all the vegetables and other ingredients. Blackening the pepper and cooking the rice can be done while you are prepping other things.
Cook time refers to the skillet time, once the peppers and the rice are completed.
Note that you will probably have some extra filling that will work just fine next morning alongside a couple fried eggs. Mmmm....
So a skillet full of flavor from an amazing group of close-to-home friends–is there a better way to celebrate harvest time? It was all so easy… huh… hold on a minute. The cooking was easy because my ingredients are so fresh and healthy and clean. But I’m a lucky green gal in that respect. How my farmer friends get this food to market is a lot—and I mean A LOT—harder. They won’t complain, of course, because they are committed and love what they do. But the truth is, there is a lot wrong with U.S. Agriculture when it comes to supporting high-integrity small producers. Bottom line: the support just isn’t there.
I would ask that as you enjoy your next market-inspired meal, you take a peek at this informative and somewhat maddening article from Delicious Living Magazine. In the print version it’s called Crop Circles, which I find so poetically on point. Online it’s called The Trouble with U.S. Agriculture, leaving no room for confusion. You’ll meet a wonderful woman named Danelle Myer, who is doing everything right on her family farm but without much help. This article spells out the problems inherent in the current version of the 2018 proposed Farm Bill and gives suggestions for consumers to initiate change through grassroots efforts. So maybe you and I need to step up to the farm table to demand better. Food for thought.