I am crazy about all things hot and spicy. While many people only pull out fiery tongue tinglers for their weekly taco Tuesday, you’ll find me toting these blistering condiments to the table on a day-to-day basis, from breakfast through dinner. The tofu scramble is better with a dash of hot sauce. The Thai noodle stir-fry is sassier with sriracha. Gyoza are best dipped in hot Chinese mustard. Sandwiches have kick with sliced jalapeno peppers or served with a side of hot pickled asparagus, and of course, saag aloo is divine with the request, “I’d like it hot, please.” I think the only meal that isn’t improved upon when served with something scorching is dessert, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.
That’s why when I saw that this week’s Vegan MoFo-hosted Iron Chef Challenge involved making a recipe using the ingredient breadcrumbs, I knew I needed to bust out a vegan version of an old pregan classic – jalapeno poppers. Even before I went vegan, it had probably been years since I’d indulged in poppers, but the memory was clear. There’s the crisp breading with a creamy inside followed by a hit of heat and bite from the pepper. It’s no wonder that they’re loved throughout diners, sports bars, and anywhere icy cold Mexican beer with lime is served. Clearly the only thing left to do was to make them vegan-friendly.
A creamy and salty cashew cheese takes the place of the standard cream cheese, followed by a breading of flour and breadcrumbs, and then baked in the oven. It surprised me how much hotter these fresh poppers are than the frozen ones of yore. They have a crisp lightness about them and a real no-nonsense sensibility. They would be an excellent addition to a party appetizer platter or to serve alongside a mild and creamy potato soup.
Makes 8 – 10 poppers
- ½ cup raw cashews, soaked 4-12 hours in water
- 1 Tbsp mellow white miso
- 2 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp fresh basil, chopped
- 1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
- 4-5 large jalapenos, sliced in half length-wise and seeded
- ½ cup rice milk or other non-dairy milk
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- ½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
- ¼ + ½ tsp dried oregano
- ¼ + ½ tsp dried thyme
- ¼ + ½ tsp granulated garlic
- ¼ + ½ tsp granulated onion
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Blend drained raw cashews, miso, 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, and extra virgin olive oil in food processor. Stop occasionally to scrape down sides. Once smooth, add fresh basil and oregano and blend until fully combined. For slicing and seeding jalapenos, remember to wear gloves. After they’re sliced and seeded, fill the cavities of each jalapeno pepper half with cashew cheese. (Don’t worry too much if the cheese plumps over the top of each half. It will still cook fine without falling out.)
2. Prepare the breading station. Combine rice milk and cornstarch in a shallow bowl. On a separate plate combine flour and ¼ tsp each of dried oregano, dried thyme, granulated onion, and granulated garlic. On another plate combine breadcrumbs, 1 Tbsp of nutritional yeast, and ½ tsp each of dried oregano, dried thyme, granulated onion, and granulated garlic.
Note: To bread, bake, and finish the poppers, I give two options. One is a slightly more virtuous baking and broiling method (3A). The other version offers a milder appetizer with more breading, but there is some frying at the end (3B). If you make option 3A, you’ll have leftover flour & breadcrumb mixture. Just slide them into the freezer in glass containers or baggies for the next time a popper craving hits.
3A. Dredge a cashew-cheese stuffed jalapeno in the flour mixture, sealing the cashew cheese into the cavity. Then dip the jalapeno into the milk mixture. Finally, coat it in the breadcrumb plate. Press the crumbs onto the pepper until fully covered. Set aside and repeat with each pepper until they’re all coated. Place the peppers on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Bake the peppers for 30 minutes. (Optional) For further browning, after they’ve finished baking move the peppers to a broiling pan and broil them at a medium heat for 2 minutes. Keep an eye on them to be sure that they brown and don’t burn. Remove from oven and serve.
3B. Dredge a cashew-cheese stuffed jalapeno in the flour mixture, sealing the cashew cheese into the cavity. Then dip the jalapeno in the milk mixture. Dip the jalapeno in the flour mixture for a second time. Then dip the jalapeno in the milk mixture a second time. Finally, move the jalapeno to the breadcrumb plate and fully coat it with crumbs. Set aside and repeat with each pepper until they’re all coated. After all of the peppers are coated, give each of them one final dredging in the flour mixture. Place the peppers on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Bake the peppers for 30 minutes. When the peppers are almost done, heat a large skillet with a small amount of neutral oil, like canola oil. After the peppers are finished baking in the oven, move them to the skillet and lightly fry them for 3-4 minutes or until they are browned. Remove them from the skillet and serve.