Pub Night: Baked Jalapeno Poppers with Cilantro-Lime Yoghurt Dip
I’ve worked at four diamond resorts, family restaurants, and grubby pubs. When I was about 16, I served in the dining room of a charming relais du silence in Northern Ontario, which is where I first tried frog legs, Poire Belle Helene, house cured salmon, and plum glazed quail. Up until that point, I didn’t know that shrimp could be gray when they were uncooked. When I was about 18, I served in a complete and utter den of iniquity, where I first tried Buffalo wings, deep-fried cheese balls, onion chips and jalapeno poppers. Up until that point, I didn’t know that toilets could turn purple when they were unwashed. Interesting place, that. I would be quite happy to never again have a job where my daily duties include scraping puke out of urinals.
Anyway, back to the point of this article: deep-fried food. Specifically, cheese filled deep-fried food. Pub grub has the dichotic distinction of being both clandestine and sacred at the same time. It’s so bad, but so gooooood. You don’t really want to admit that you like it, but hey, those mozza sticks aren’t going to eat themselves if you know what I mean. There are times for crispy parmesan sweet potato fries with truffle oil, and then there are times for poutine. Since Thursday is unofficially Pub Night, why not make some nutritionally void but otherwise delicious finger foods to enjoy with a nice cold brew? Why not, indeed!
You should know something about me though… I don’t deep fry. Well, I rarely deep fry. And yes, it’s exactly why you think: I see no reason to aid and abet my chronic weight fluctuations by taunting the devil with my greasy goods. So be prepared! Most of the pub grub that you might see popping up on the site throughout the next several months will be baked, not fried. Have no delusions though, these poppers may be crispy baked, but they’re still breaded and stuffed full of cheesey goodness. I’m only human, after all.
Baked Jalapeno Poppers with Yoghurt Lime Dip
Makes about 20 poppers *
- 20 large (4″) jalapeno peppers, or 25 medium (3″) penos
- 1 package of cream cheese (8oz) at room temperature
- 200 g of extra old cheddar cheese (about 1/2lb) **
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1.5 cups panko ***
- salt and pepper
- 1.5 cups natural yoghurt
- 6 small sweet gherkins (about 1/4 cup chopped)
- 2 small cloves of garlic
- 1 lime (1 tsp zest + juice of 1/2)
- small handful fresh cilantro
- salt to taste
* Note: this is not health food, and any virtuosity that you may feel by having baked and not fried your little jalapeno delights, will soon be nixed when you realize that you and a friend just ate them all. Or…or maybe I’m just speaking for myself on that one.
** If you don’t have a strongly flavored cheese, like a sharp and nippy old cheddar, the poppers may be too bland.
*** Panko are large and super crispy Japanese bread crumbs. If you don’t have Panko, use regular bread crumbs – they’ll just be a bit softer.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with one (1) egg until it is smooth and well combined. You don’t have to use an egg mind you, it’s up to you. I used an egg because I’ve had two kinds of jalapeno poppers:
1. The kind where you can bite through and enjoy a cheesy, delicious interior with a crispy coated shell and a soft, slippery pepper base.
2. The kind where you bite in and a big blob of molten cheese squirts out onto your chin in a moment of painful agony where you officially condemn to hell the ooey-gooey creations that you previously thought that you adored.
I don’t like burning cheese on my chin, so I beat in an egg to keep the cheese in line.
Shred the sharp cheddar cheese on the finer holes of a box grater so that the shreds are nice and fine. Mix this in with the cream cheese mixture, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Now on to the jalapeno peppers! Start by slicing each jalapeno in half lengthwise. When you do this, if possible, try to slice through the jalapeno stem so that each half has a little nub attached. This is actually for no reason other than it’s pretty, and they’re easier to grab, so if you miss, well, no bother.
Scoop the seeds and as much of the rib as you like (or rather, don’t like) out of the peppers. The seeds and ribs of a hot pepper are really what holds the heat. One thing to remember, however, is that the peppers will lose a lot of their heat and start to mellow down slowly as they bake. What starts as a fiery hot pepper, after a half hour of baking, becomes soft and mild. I scraped all of the ribs out of these peppers ONLY out of deference to my fellow eaters, and the resulting poppers were about a mildly medium heat. Making them for myself, I’m more likely to take out most of the seeds but leave the larger ribs intact.
Oh! And a really good tool to use for this is a melon baller, although a grapefruit spoon is sharp enough that it also works well.
Stuff each jalapeno half with a heaping mound of cream cheese. Don’t worry about filling them so full if you added the egg. It will bind with the cheesy interior to keep everything in it’s place.
Lightly grease (I use the spray on stuff, like PAM, because I am *that* lazy) a shallow cooking rack which is small enough to sit on top of your baking sheet. I don’t actually use a cooking rack, I use a cooling rack….but c’mon, a rack is a rack is a rack.
Ahoy, and on to the breading!! This is basic breading, and I feel silly saying this, but just incase….the flour goes in the first bowl. In the second bowl, beat the two remaining eggs and season liberally with salt and pepper. In the third bowl will be the panko.
If you’ve never actually purchased or eaten panko before, this is what it looks like. Imagine a very dry, crunchy, coarsely ground bread crumb. I love using panko because it keeps the exterior of whatever I’m making crispy, crunchy, and crusty. I do adore regular bread crumbs as well, but they tend to get soggy a lot faster.
Oh! And it’s a good idea to preheat the oven at this point, to 400ºF.
Now grab a jalapeno pepper and roll it around in the flour like a pig in the dirt.
Dip the whole thing into the whisked eggs and turn it to make sure that the whole thing is well coated. Shake off any excess.
Roll the eggy jalapeno in the panko, pressing down just gently as you turn, to coat it with crumbs.
Lay the jalapenos onto the lightly oiled rack (set on top of a baking sheet, as you already know), making sure that they don’t touch.
Bake the poppers for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned and the crust is…crusty.
While the poppers bake, we might as well make some dip.
Finely chop the gherkins. No, really, I mean finely. Nobody (except for me) likes big chunks of sweet pickle in their dip.
Also, I should have mentioned. Do you not like sweet gherkins? Really? What’s WRONG with you? I swear I’ve eaten a whole jar on my own before…in one sitting….I really, really like mini gherkins. However, should you not be of the sweet pickle persuasion, 1/2 of one smallish super-tart dill will do a fine old job as well. Instead of being a sweet-tart-garlicky-green dip, it will be a sour-pickley-garlicky-green dip…and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re using a garlicky dill, however, you may want to scale down the garlic in the dip….which is already quite garlicky, because that’s just how my bacon shakes.
In a smallish bowl, combine the yoghurt with the gherkins. Rasp (yes, ‘rasp’ is now an action word in my culinary vocabulary) in about 1 packed teaspoon of fresh lime zest, and squeeze in the juice of half the lime. Press, grate or zest in the garlic as well – any way you want, as long as it’s fine and pulpy. I may like chunks of pickle, but not quite so keen on chunks of garlic. Give everything a good stir and season with salt to taste – less if you’re using dill pickle instead of sweet.
Finely chop the cilantro, stems and all. It should be about 1/4 cup when all is said and done. Add this to the yoghurt mixture and stir until it’s all combined.
Crispy crust, cheesy interior, soft pepper base. Does it get any better than that?
The bright, sweet, garlicky and lime infused dip is a perfect foil for these little cheesy treats. And no, you can’t eat just one. It’s illegal.
See how they hold together? See? Thank you, Ova Majoris, we appreciate your virtures.
And then the dip….ohhh yeah, the dip. God bless that dip. By the way, if there’s any left over, it makes a great dressing for a chunky cucumber, radish and red onion salad….just saying…..
Sure, you could pay $7.95 for a basket of deep fried brown nuggets from the local tavern. Or, you could bake them yourself, and all of a sudden being forced to watch 3 hours of football doesn’t seem nearly so bad.
CHEERS, BIG EARS!!!!