chiles capones (pasilla chiles stuffed with tomatillo + cotija cheese)

I was in Mexico last weekend hosting a group of editors in the magical town of Morelia. As a representative for the Mexican avocado industry, I was introducing food writers to the ancient tradition of avocado harvesting. In addition to touring avocado orchards, I get to eat some of the most wonderful foods I have ever eaten. These trips, which I go on about once a year, are what have made me fall in love with authentic Mexican cuisine. It will take many more trips before I can digest and wrap my head around the multitude of earthy ingredients that go into this deep rooted cuisine, but for now we can start with a recipe for chiles capones. 

The chile used in this recipe is the pasilla chile or also called chile negro or black chile. It is the dried form of a pepper called chilaca. The pasilla is long, narrow and wrinkled, dark in color and rich in flavor. It is mild in heat but sometimes can be medium hot. For this recipe you will have to soak the chiles for several hours before using them, but in some recipes all you need to do is heat them to make them pliable. I love the deep earthy flavor dried chiles bring to a dish – they are wonderful in salsas, broths and rich sauces, like mole. To learn more about chiles and to try other recipes, see Diana Kennedy’s write up on Mexican chiles in Food & Wine.

look for tomatillos with tightly wrapped husks

I had these chiles capones at a restaurant in Morelia called Los Mirasoles. Our tour guide, Deborah, recommended them years ago and I still ooh and aah when I eat them. For something so rich and complex in flavor you’ll be surprised at how easy they are to make. You start with a saute of onion and tomatillos then slowly add the cheese. If you taste the mixture before the cheese is added, you’ll taste the tartness of the tomatillos and understand why so much cheese is added. You’ll also notice that no salt is required thanks to the cotija.

chiles capones 

serves 3 (I know this is odd, but it’s the truth)

ingredients

  • 6 pasilla chiles
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cups finely diced tomatillos (about 4)
  • 8 ounces cotija cheese, grated

procedure

  1. Seed and devein chiles by gently cutting a vertical slit in the center of the chile. With scissors, carefully cut up and down the chile until it is split open. Remove seeds and light colored veins.
  2. In a large bowl, combine chiles and vinegar; fill with water until chiles are submerged. Soak for 8 hours or overnight.
  3. In a saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions; cook and stir until translucent. Add tomatillos; cook and stir until slightly tender and translucent.
  4. Slowly begin adding the cheese, stirring constantly until all the cheese is incorporated. Remove from heat.
  5. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  6. Drain chiles and pat dry. Arrange chiles on aluminum foil.
  7. Spoon tomatillo mixture into the peppers until you run out. Bake in oven until cheese begins to brown, about 10 minutes.
  8. Serve stuffed peppers with tortillas, crema and avocado if desired.
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