Are you a gastronaut?
The Urban Dictionary defines a gastronaut as “a person who is willing to go to great lengths to find exotic and often bizarre foods to eat.”
I don’t know about the bizarre part, but I confess that I’m a gastronaut. My heart quickens at the prospect of trying a new exotic dish. My idea of a good time is to spend hours checking out the aisles of ethnic markets. I’m not proud of it, but sometimes I buy foods that interest me but I have no idea how to prepare. I look them up when I get home and go from there.
Yep. My name is Lorraine and I’m an unabashed gastronaut.
There is an interesting bit of history behind the term gastronaut. Reportedly, the term was coined by British celebrity chef, Keith Floyd. Floyd, who died in 2009, was known for his cooking and his cooking eccentricities–endearing himself to millions of viewers around the world with his casual cooking style. Wearing his signature bow tie, he chatted up his film crew and drank wine throughout his shows. Apparently, the drinking-wine-while-cooking meme was a standing joke in his TV work that inspired other celebrity chefs to “lighten up” and sent the message to viewers that you could have a good time while cooking. Floyd frequently took his shows out of the studio to cook in exotic locations. A notable show had him, wine glass in hand, cooking on a small boat being tossed in rough seas.
Those of us gastronauts who live in urban areas are lucky to have access to so many interesting ethnic foods. We can find dosas, idlis, momos, pad Thai, kung pao and on and on–usually within a short driving distance. And, of course, Mexican food is everywhere. It wasn’t always that way. I remember traveling with my parents many years ago to visit my aunt and uncle who lived in Wenatchee, Washington. I guess my family was already hooked on Mexican food because I remember my mother going from market to market trying (without success) to find tortillas.
Here is a recipe for some sublime chiles rellenos.
Long ago, a substitute teacher in my California History class, Alma Boone, gave me this recipe. Alma’s rellenos are wonderful, easy to prepare and this seems like a good time to share her recipe. Alma said to serve the rellenos with El Pato sauce, a canned pureed salsa now available at most markets. I’ve added a recipe for a homemade chile sauce to this post if you want to make your own. The homemade sauce is a non-tomato option for saucing your rellenos.
Remember to enjoy a glass of wine while you cook your rellenos. Bow tie is optional.
Recipe: Chiles Relleno
Fresh Anaheim or Pasilla Chiles (Pasilla chiles are also often called Poblano chiles)-You will need one or two chiles per person
Egg (room temperature)-One egg per chile
Cheese (cut in strips), any soft white cheese will work. Good choices include monterey jack, queso fresco, mozzarella, muenster.
El Pato Sauce (yellow can)–Available in most supermarkets alongside the tomato sauces (or homemade chile sauce-see recipe below)
Fresh sliced Jalapenos (seeded or not–your call)
Chopped Green Onions
Mild Oil for frying
Recipe for Alternative Chile Sauce:
1 quart vegetable broth
6 T. mild chile powder
1/4 t. garlic salt
1 T. cumin (whole or ground)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 T. cornstarch mixed in 4 T. water
Directions: Homemade Chile Sauce
Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil. Add cornstarch and boil for one minute until sauce thickens. If you have trouble getting your sauce to thicken, add more cornstarch and water.
Directions: Chiles Rellenos
Rinse chiles and blister under the broiler in your oven or in the flame on your gas stove. Watch the chiles carefully. Turn chiles every two or three minutes. Chiles should be charred and blistered when they are ready. Place chiles in a closed paper bag and let them sit for a few minutes for their skins to steam a bit and become easier to remove.
Remove from bag and peel skin from the chiles. Discard skin. Remove seeds from chiles. Don’t worry if the chiles rip apart a bit, the egg batter will hide any imperfections.
Separate egg whites from yolks. Whip egg whites until stiff. You will need about one egg white for each chile. Fold a bit of the yolk back into the white to finish the batter.
Heat about one-half inch of a mild oil in a shallow pan until hot.
Stuff chiles with cheese of your choice. Dip the chile into the beaten egg mixture to coat. Using a slotted spoon, gently place the egg-white-coated chile into the hot oil. Let chile cook for a couple minutes until the egg batter on the bottom of the chile is medium brown and then carefully turn the chile over in the pan and cook the other side until it, too, is brown. Remove from hot oil and drain on a paper towel.
Plate the chile. Spread a spoonful or two of the El Pato Sauce on the plate (or the alternative chile sauce mentioned above). Place the chile on the sauce. Drizzle with Mexican Crema. Garnish with slices of jalapeno chile, shredded cheddar cheese, radishes, chopped cilantro and chopped green onions. If you enjoy your food spicy, sprinkle a bit of cayenne pepper over the dish. Enjoy.
Cook’s Notes: If you use poblano (pasilla) chiles, be aware that they are more spicy than Anaheim chiles. While poblanos are generally described as being a mildly spicy chile, occasionally you can get a very spicy one. Also, Alma told me that she dredged her stuffed uncooked chiles in flour before dipping them into the beaten egg mixture. She said that egg adhered better to the chiles with the flour coating. I don’t find that necessary, but you might want to try that technique.