Why is there so much confusion about this type of pepper?
Originally, I called this recipe “Stuffed Pasilla Peppers” because that’s what you all them where I’m from. But this is in fact a mistake, and a very widespread one.
Someone, somewhere, at some point in time, decided to go all crazy and call poblano peppers “pasillas.” The problem seems to be most abundant here in California, though I’ve heard reports of this mistake being made elsewhere.
I call them pasillas because it’s just the way of things ’round here. Which is odd to say, because helloooo! It’s California! We’re practically an extension of Mexico – or at least we were until the 1850s.
In fact, to clarify the correct terminology here, a true pasilla pepper won’t ever be found fresh. This is in fact the name for the dried form of the chilaca chili pepper, also referred to as chile negro.
Poblanos, on the other hand, are fleshy and green and perfect for stuffing. But when they’re dried, they become dark and wrinkly ancho chilies.
And that’s where the root of the confusion lies – they do look similar enough to pasillas in that form that somewhere down the line, a distributor or a shop owner got them confused, and the often incorrect nomenclature stuck throughout a significant portion of California.
Many of us were taught to call these pasillas. But it turns out we were wrong!
Whatever they’re called in your local grocery stores and farmers markets, you’re looking for a fresh, green pepper to make this dish, not a dried one.
Regardless, hello Mexican food! Not the kind wrapped in a giant flour tortilla filled with mostly cheese and beans, but a health-ified and more true-to-the-roots Mexican food than most things you find north of the border.
Just to clarify, burritos (which I comically realized the other day means “little donkey”) do not really exist in Mexico. Not south of Tijuana, at least. They are an American invention, a beloved Tex-Mex and Cali-Mex tradition – and a tasty one at that. But in Mexico? It’s all about the tacos.
I’ve been pretty obsessed with Mexican food for just about as long as I can remember, just as any good southern Californian should be.
While most places are lucky to have one good Mexican restaurant in town (I mean really lucky), tiny hole-in-the-wall taco shops and more Americanized but still amazingly tasty Mexicali restaurants are abundant in the lower latitudes of the state. The north is not quite so fortunate.
But, hey now – let’s not pretend these stuffed peppers are are authentically Mexican in a traditional sense, because they are not. They are, however, rooted in the authentic traditions of the foodways there, with a few new and more locally popular ingredients to change things up.
Taking something and making it your own, based on what you have available, if the nature of food culture, right?
Garbanzo beans replace what would most likely be pintos or black beans in more traditional fare, and quinoa replaces the rice. But the bell peppers, serrano chilies, and corn? Totally part of the typical routine.
Whether or not people from any particular region of Mexico at any point in time mixed all these ingredients together and shoved them inside a pepper, I have no idea.
Bell peppers and corn both originate in Mexico, and serranos hail from Puebla. Chickpeas actually have a long history in parts of Latin America as well, so anything is possible. What I DO know for sure is that these are dang tasty, and easy to cook, to boot.
While you cook the quinoa (which can also be done ahead of time), you can chop the rest of the veggies and prep the peppers. Stuff the mixture inside, drizzle with the best enchilada sauce you can find (homemade would be even better), arrange in a cast iron skillet, and set ’em on the grill at 350°F for about 25 minutes. Ta-da! Easy peasy.Print
Grilled poblano peppers stuffed with chickpeas, bell peppers, serranos, corn, and quinoa, topped with enchilada sauce and cotija cheese. This vegetarian entree is sure to please.
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
- 1/4 cup diced red onion
- 1 ear fresh corn, kernels removed from cob
- 1 serrano chili pepper, minced (can substitute 1/2 jalapeno)
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (optional)
- 1 lb. poblano peppers (about 4 large or 5 medium)
- 1/2 cup enchilada sauce
- 1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese (optional)
- Cook your quinoa (I cook 1 or 2 cups of dried quinoa at a time, and eat whatever I don’t use for lunch the next day) and let it cool for 10 minutes or so. Spreading it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper can help it to cool faster.
- Prep your veggies and toss together the chickpeas, bell pepper, onion, corn, serrano pepper, and cilantro in a large bowl with 2 cups of the cooked quinoa. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Cut the poblano (what I call pasilla) peppers in half, stem and all. The stem gives each piece a nice handle to hold on to. Try to cut strategically so that each half will lay semi-flat, so the filling stays inside when you cook them.
- Preheat your grill to 350°F.
- Pile the filling into the peppers, heaping it up as much as you can without it falling out. You may have a bit left over. Drizzle 1-2 Tbsp enchilada sauce over each filled pepper half.
- Arrange the peppers in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. It’s okay to use a smaller one, but you may have to cook in multiple batches.
- Place the skillet on the grill and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the peppers are starting to blacken on the edges and are looking wrinkly. Carefully remove the skillet from the grill and set aside to cool for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle with the cheese if you like, and serve immediately.
For a vegan entree, skip the cheese on top.
A Simple Vegetarian Dinner with Delicious Flavor
The nicest thing about making this meal is that you can mostly forget about the peppers as they cook – no tossing and turning or anything like that. Just check the temp every now and then, and you’re good.
These can easily be made on a weeknight in under an hour, and your family will love this little taste of Mexico, California style. They’re great with some grilled vegetarian sausages on the side.
Craving more vegetarian Tex-Mex dishes? Try these:
- Roasted Cauliflower Enchiladas
- Black Bean Taquitos
- Slow Cooker Stuffed Bell Peppers
- Grilled Corn Green Bean Tacos
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Photos by Raquel Smith, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on July 30th, 2014. Last updated: December 29, 2019 at 1:22 am. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Raquel Smith
Raquel is a whole foods enthusiast, an avid mountain biker, and a dog lover. She works by day at Food Blogger Pro and formerly maintained her food blog "My California Roots" (now merged into Foodal).