Before I stopped eating eggs and cheese, I was a huge fan of the chile relleno. While I have never encountered the dish in any region of Mexico, which leads me to believe it is an Americanized dish, I always feel a pang of nostalgia on those rare occasions that I eat out (at Mexican restaurants in the states) and wind up ordering a combination of side dishes i.e. guacamole or avocado slices, a few different salsas, and occasionally black beans if they’re available (and if I’m feeling rebelliously un-paleo). During my most recent experience at a Mexican restaurant (Mexicali would be a more accurate term, as we were in California and the restaurant in question offered vegan fajitas) with my mom and grandparents, I found myself staring at my Nana’s chile relleno and wishing it wasn’t stuffed with cheese and fried in egg batter (which also contained wheat flour). And then it occurred to me that a vegan chile relleno could be possible if toasted cashews were utilized to make a “cheese” to replace the traditional cheese filling, as well as a grain-free flour and egg alternative in place of the egg/flour batter.
The local supermarket lacked a proper natural-foods/vegan-friendly/alternative section, yet I was able to find raw cashews in bulk, extra-firm organic tofu, fresh poblano chiles, and garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour. They also carried coconut flour–but at $12 for a 16-oz package–when chickpea flour was $3 and also on sale, I had to go with the latter. Chickpea flour is not technically paleo, but I’ve encountered many a “paleo” recipe in which it is used. I eat beans on occasion, so this wasn’t a problem for me. If you are stricter in terms of adhering to the paleo diet, I would recommend spending the extra $$ for coconut flour.
Cashew “Cheese” Chile Rellenos
4 Poblano Chiles (available at most conventional grocery stores in the produce section)
Ingredients – Cashew “Cheese” Filling
1 cup raw cashews
1 x 16oz package extra-firm tofu
1 meyer lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
Filtered water (or regular tap water)
Ingredients for the Eggless, Wheat-Free Batter
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour (chickpea flour) or your flour of choice
1/2 cup soy milk
Egg replacer alternative to 1 egg (I used ground golden flaxseeds/flax meal but you could use Ener-G egg replacer or another commercial brand with a similar result)
Ingredients for the Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce
3 large tomatoes (I used organic heirlooms, but normal large tomatoes will work fine too).
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 meyer lemon (or any lemon)
An additional 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour, aka chickpea flour (or your flour of choice) to coat the peppers once they are dipped in batter and before they are fried
Sea salt and black pepper, optional, to taste
1. In an oven or toaster oven, lightly toast the raw cashews (set to 200, on “toast” as opposed to broil or bake) for 10 minutes, checking consistently so they don’t burn (I experienced an unfortunate burnt pine-nut situation recently). Nuts (especially pinenuts and cashews) tend to be expensive, so burning a batch is disappointing and inconvenient. You are now warned :)
Once your cashew nuts are toasted (lightly browned), remove them from the toaster or convection oven and let cool for a few minutes. Next, transfer them to your food processor, high-powered blender, Vita Mix or “Nutri-Bullet” (which I was given the opportunity to use, thanks to my Nana–who swears by it and has in recent months become very enthusiastic about making kale + fruit smoothies/green smoothies with it (!!!). Anyway, next add the extra-firm tofu, and squeeze in the juice from the lemon–as well as your preferred amount of salt and pepper. Pulse until it reaches the consistency of ricotta cheese.
Now for the peppers. Remove the tops of each and gently scoop out the seeds. Fill each pepper with the Cashew “Cheese” mixture and set aside.
To make the faux-egg batter, combine all ingredients (chickpea/garbanzo bean flour, soy milk, flaxseed meal or your preferred egg replacer). Beat with an egg beater or a fork until it reaches a batter-like consistency).
Combine the other portion of garbanzo/chickpea flour with the additional salt and pepper (should you choose to use it) with a fork until properly mixed.
Coat each Cashew “Cheese” Stuffed Pepper with garbanzo/chickpea flour and dip into the batter. Then promptly drop each pepper into the olive oil (or your oil of choice) and fry until golden brown. If you use less oil (like I did) you will need to pay extra attention to the frying progress i.e. you will need to flip each one in order to cook the other side and not burn the previous.
Once all peppers are fried, place on baking sheet or oven pan. Set aside. Core and halve tomatoes, removing any bruised or moldy bits (which tends to happen when you buy/acquire the organic or homegrown variety). Place onto the baking sheet next to the peppers and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Serve these Cashew “Cheese” Stuffed Chile Rellenos + Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce topped with a few squeezes of juice leftover from the lemons, as well other toppings such as Sriracha sauce. Enjoy!