Everything about jalapeño poppers is fun. It’s no wonder they’re a bar food staple. They require minimal commitment — each is just a bite or two with no cutlery necessary. As the name suggests, you just pop one in your mouth and let the flavor begin. Inside their golden crisp coating there’s the thrill of the pepper and eating it is a little like accepting a playful dare, because you never know exactly how much heat it will pack. They say 1 in 10 has some kick to it. No worries though, because the center is packed with a creamy, cheesy filling to immediately quench any heat.
This recipe delivers all that enjoyment, but in a more healthful way than the typical fried version, so you feel just as good after eating them as you do while you are popping away. These are baked, so while they are amply crispy thanks to their olive oil-coated panko bread crumb crust, they are not at all greasy. Also, their creamy stuffing is less dense, taking advantage of a light blend of cheeses, ricotta and whipped cream cheese spiked with just enough shredded Monterey Jack. You will love serving them at a game-day party not only because they are fun for your guests, but also because they can be made in advance and reheated – which means you’ll be in on the fun as well.
Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author who hosts public television’s “Ellie’s Real Good Food.” She blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com.
Baked Jalapeño Poppers
Makes 20 pieces
With a crispy baked coating and light creamy filling, this recipe delivers all the fun and flavor of the typical fried bar food staple in a more healthful way.
For this recipe, we like clearing the jalapeño halves of ribs and seeds by scraping them out with a spoon.
Make ahead: Poppers can be baked, cooled and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance; reheat in a 325-degree oven on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes.
From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.
2 ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese (1/2 cup packed)
1/3 cup whipped cream cheese
1/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
10 medium jalapeño peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded, stems trimmed to 1/2-inch
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1 cup plain panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon garlic powder (granulated garlic)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven; preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking oil spray.
Stir together the Monterey Jack cheese, cream cheese, ricotta cheese and cilantro in a bowl, until well incorporated. Use about 2 teaspoons of the mixture to fill each jalapeño half.
Spread flour on a plate and season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper.
Beat the egg in a separate bowl. Spread the panko bread crumbs on a separate plate and season with the garlic powder and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Toss the seasoned bread crumbs with oil until evenly coated.
Toss each stuffed jalapeño in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess, then in the egg, and finally in the seasoned panko, shaking off the excess. Each piece should be coated all around in the mixture. Arrange the coated jalapeños, cut sides up, on the baking sheet. Roast (upper rack) for 30 to 35 minutes, until the coating is golden brown and the cheese has melted a bit.