Let’s talk football.
Actually, let’s not talk football. Let’s talk football food. The super bowl is coming up, which is something I am definitely looking forward to. Not because I like sports (yes, sadly, I am one of those people who watches for the commercials, not for the game), but because it means food. Awesome, amped-up, bite-sized, eat-with-your-fingers, unapologetic deliciousness.
Hunky men in tight pants is just a bonus.
It’s true. If you invite me to your super bowl party, I will not know who we are rooting for or why. If you ask me a sports-related question, I will promptly stuff my face with something tasty and grunt an apology for having my mouth full and not being able to answer. But you should invite me to your party anyway, because I’ll bring these — which will save you the minimal effort required to make them. Worth it? Yes.
The only problem with all the food around football season is, well, all the food. Didn’t we all just make a bunch of diet related resolutions? If I’m not mistaken, most super bowl worthy snacks aren’t exactly the healthiest things to be eating in quantity.
That’s why I’ve attempted to healthify these jalapeno poppers, without sacrificing any of their awesomeness, by baking them instead of frying. You know, so you can eat a dozen of them and still have enough energy to stand up and cheer when your team scores a touchdown. Or, when everyone else stands up and cheers and you just follow along because you don’t know what’s going on.
What? YES! GO TEAM!
You could even make these bad boys a touch less bad by using low fat cream cheese, if that’s your thing. They can also be made gluten-free, just by swapping the flour and breadcrumbs for their gluten-free counterparts. Whatever sizzles your bacon.
Before we get to the recipe, let’s take a look at the game plan. When you’re gutting the seeds out of these peppers, be sure you’re wearing gloves. I like the Nitrile kind, because they’re both latex and powder free, and they make you look like a culinary surgeon. The oils inside these peppers are hot, and handling them with your bare hands will result in jalapeno-degree burns wherever you touch yourself. Like your face. Don’t do it.
Second, there are two ways to go about filling your peppers. You can slice ‘em in half, scrape out the innards, and fill each half separately (the easy way), or you can make an incision down one side, scoop out the seeds, and stuff the whole pepper (the awesome way). The first way is a bit faster, and will result in double the number of poppers (score!), but I prefer the second method simply because I like the look of the whole peppers, and the stems double as little handles for dipping (bonus!). Your poppers will be equally delicious whichever method you choose, so it’s up to you.
Lastly, feel free to customize the recipe to your tastes. Keep in mind that the bulk of the heat in the jalapenos is in the seeds and veins, so the more thorough you are in removing them, the milder they will be. You can also swap out the pepper jack cheese for monterray, cheddar, or mozzarella. I actually filled some of my peppers with a mix of refried beans and cheddar, and served them with salsa for dipping. Those turned out great, too, so use whatever you like. The one thing you shouldn’t change about this recipe is the breadcrumbs — whether you’re using gluten-free or regular breadcrumbs, be sure they’re panko. This will help give the poppers that perfectly crispy exterior, sans the deep-frying.
Alright? let’s do this!
Baked Jalapeno Poppers with Sweet & Spicy Apricot Dipping Sauce
Makes 14-16 whole poppers, or 28-32 half poppers, depending on size
For the dipping sauce:
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/4 tsp. ginger powder
1/4-1/2 tsp. red chile flakes, to taste
1/8th-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste
1-2 tsp. water, as needed
For the poppers:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup grated pepper jack cheese (or monterray jack, mozzarella, or cheddar)
14-16 jalapenos, depending on size
2 large eggs
2 TBSP milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free blend)
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs (or gluten-free alternative)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (or 34 tsp. sea salt)
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
pinch of cayenne
pinch of black pepper
For the sauce:
1. Mix together the apricot preserves, ginger powder, chile flakes, and cayenne. Taste, and adjust the cayenne and chile flakes as needed. If the sauce is too spicy, add more preserves. Stir in the water as needed to thin to desired consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.
For the poppers:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray, and set aside.
2. In a bowl, mush together the cream cheese and grated cheese. Set aside.
3. Wearing latex-free gloves, make an incision down the length of each jalapeno. At the top of each incision, near the stem, make a small cross-wise cut like the letter T. Gently peel back either side of the jalapeno to reveal the stem and seeds inside. Using the tip of your knife or your fingers, remove the seeds and veins (or, if you have a set of metal measuring spoons, I find the 1/2 tsp. measure to be perfect for scooping everything out cleanly).
Alternatively: to double the number of poppers, cut each pepper in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds and veins from each half.
4. Stuff each pepper (or half pepper) with the cheese and cream cheese mixture, and set aside.
5. Prepare your breading ingredients: In a shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk, and set aside. Place the flour in another shallow dish, and stir in a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside. In a separate dish, combine the bread crumbs and all of the spices.
6. Dip each stuffed pepper into the egg mixture, then dredge lightly in the flour, shaking off any excess. Once all of the peppers have been dredged in flour, dip them again in the egg mixture, then roll in the breadcrumbs to coat thoroughly.
7. Once all of the peppers have been rolled in breadcrumbs, place them on your prepared baking sheet and spray the tops of the peppers lightly with cooking spray (this will help them brown, and not burn). Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 30 minutes. Let cool 3-5 minutes before digging in.