I know I keep telling you guys over and over again that I'm not a fan of spicy foods and yet they keep showing up here on this blog anyway. Here's the thing: I really want to like them. I think I've convinced myself that if I keep trying them, eventually I'll stop being such a wimp when it comes to the heat. I figure there are plenty of other foods I've learned to like over time (coconut, tart citrus things and eggplant, to name just a few), so it has to be possible, right?
Because of my spicy food aversion, I've never actually had a jalapeño popper (though we did make the dip) but my understanding is that it's basically a jalapeño stuffed with a cream cheese and bacon mixture that's breaded and fried. I don't see any possible way that could be bad. I gave some thought to attempting them, but as much as I've become more comfortable with frying lately, it still seemed like a lot of work for something I wasn't even sure I'd like.
Instead, I turned to this healthier grilled version. It's perfect for summer, a great alternative to baking when you don't feel like heating up the house with your oven (though frankly, I wouldn't mind that right now give that it was in the 40's here yesterday - definitely felt more like March than June!). You can even prep these ahead and chill them, then cook at the last minute so I think they'd be a great appetizer idea for summer parties. The jalapeños are halved and stuffed with a mixture consisting of cream cheese, cheddar cheese, bacon, garlic and scallions - pretty similar to the fried version so far. We skip the breading entirely, though, and just pop the peppers on the grill, which browns and warms the cheese mixture and gives the peppers a really nice char on the bottom. I used a grill basket for these so the peppers wouldn't slip and fall in between the grates, but you could probably do it without one if you're really careful. Once the peppers are cooked, they're garnished with chopped tomatoes and parsley for a little color and more flavor.
I really, really liked these. The filling was flavorful, the charred peppers were smoky and tender, and I enjoyed the contrast of the cool, juicy tomatoes. Eating the stuffed jalapeños was a little like a game of Russian roulette though. The first few I tried were mild, barely any heat at all. But then my luck ended and the next one packed a serious punch of heat - my mouth was on fire! I ate the filling only out of that one :) I'm not sure there's really a good solution other than sampling each and every jalapeño before filling them to find the really hot ones, but since the goal is to expose myself to more spicy foods, not avoid them altogether, I'll just keep taking my chances!
Grilled Stuffed Jalapeños
adapted from Cooking Light's Way to Cook Grilling
4 slices bacon
14 jalapeño peppers, halved lengthwise
1 (8-oz) package reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup minced scallions
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped seeded tomato
Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
In a medium skillet set over medium-low heat, cook the bacon until browned and crisp. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Allow to cool slightly, then crumble.
While the bacon cooks, scoop the seeds and ribs from the insides of the halved peppers (a small spoon did the trick for me). In a medium bowl, combine the crumbled bacon, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, scallions, lime juice, salt and garlic. Stir to combine. Stuff each of the pepper halves with some of the cheese mixture. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the stuffed peppers, then cook them later.)
Spray a grill basket or pan with nonstick cooking spray then transfer the peppers to the prepared pan. Place the pan in the preheated grill and cook (with the grill cover closed) for about 8 minutes, or until the cheese mixture browns slightly, and the bottom of the peppers is charred. Transfer the peppers to a serving platter and garnish with the parsley and tomato before serving.