Chicken Piccadillo Chiles Rellenos
In my earliest childhood days, the range of foods I ate was limited. We ate exclusively the traditional Creole cuisine of New Orleans in my household. When my family moved to Los Angeles, of course, our food horizons opened up a good bit. While my father was more traditional, my mother was quite the adventurer when it came to feeding her family. Of course, Los Angeles had much to offer, especially great home style Mexican food. Once I had settled in at a permanent grade school, I was a frequent school night dinner guest at the home of Lilia Ruiz, my classmate and best friend in those days. Lilia’s mother spoke almost no English, but her cooking spoke to my heart. She would deftly pat masa de harina into tortillas right beside us at the table, throw them on to a sizzling griddle, and present them to us piping hot to scoop up braised meats, and beans and rice, with a slice of avocado tucked in which we’d fold up and pop into our mouths.
Mexican food is like a second mother to me. Of course, it’s a great cuisine, so it’s easy to love. And really, it wasn’t that unfamiliar. There was always beans and rice, always slightly spicy and well seasoned food, and always a hint of familiarity. No surprise, as Mexico and the Louisiana territory were both colonized to some degree, at some point by both France and Spain, both of whom left a culinary imprint. Additionally, there was travel back and forth across (what was in those days) a very amorphous border between the two lands, and food stuffs were carried back and forth. Chiles (like Tabasco) were introduced to Louisiana from Mexico, and certain pockets of regional Mexican cuisines use decidedly Southern items like black eyed peas, peanuts and okra in their dishes.
In particular, I learned, when researching foods for a tapas party last summer, that stuffed vegetables were directly an influence of Spanish cuisine. Well, I had eaten plenty of stuffed bell peppers in my New Orleans cuisine, and I continue to eat chiles rellenos as part of my Mexican menu.
I will often take the time to make chiles rellenos con queso for Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of a Mexican victory over the French (and big day for drinking Margaritas here in So Cal). This year, I took the opportunity to do something a bit different by stuffing my chiles with a chicken piccadillo, inspired by the wonderful Lindsay Naturals green olives I was sent a couple of weeks ago. The olives are packed only in water and sea salt, so have a fresher, more buttery flavor than those packed in a vinegary brine. The chicken picadillo makes for a lighter chile relleno than the cheese stuffed fried chile. I’ve served them here in the roasted chile poblano, but also given the option of frying the piccadillo stuffed chile. It works just fine both ways. Recipe follows…