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.
Baked Jalapeño Poppers
For this recipe, remove ribs and seeds from jalapeño halves by scraping them out with a spoon.
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 rack in upper third of oven; preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking oil spray.
Stir together Monterey Jack cheese, cream cheese, ricotta cheese and cilantro in a bowl, until well incorporated. Use about 2 teaspoons mixture to fill each jalapeño half.
Spread flour on a plate and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
Beat egg in a separate bowl. Spread panko bread crumbs on a separate plate and season with garlic powder and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Toss seasoned bread crumbs with oil until evenly coated.
Toss each stuffed jalapeño in seasoned flour, shaking off any excess, then in the egg, and finally in seasoned panko, shaking off the excess. Each piece should be coated all around in the mixture. Arrange coated jalapeños, cut sides up, on baking sheet. Roast (upper rack) for 30 to 35 minutes, until the coating is golden brown and the cheese has melted a bit. Serve warm. Makes 20.
Note: Poppers can be baked, cooled and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance; reheat in a 325-F oven on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes.