Everything about jalapeño poppers is fun. It's no wonder they're a bar food staple.
They require minimal commitment. Each is only a bite or two with no cutlery necessary. As the name suggests, you simply pop one in your mouth and let the flavor begin. Inside the golden crisp coating is the thrill of the pepper, and eating it is a little like accepting a playful dare, because you never know how much heat it will pack. They say 1 in 10 has some kick. No worries though, because the center is packed with a creamy, cheesy filling to quench any heat.
This recipe delivers all that enjoyment but in a more healthful way than the typical fried version, so you feel 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 breadcrumb 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 shredded Monterey Jack. You will love serving them at a game-day party not only because they are fun for your guests, but also because they can be made in advance and reheated - which means you'll be in on the fun as well.
Baked Jalapeño Poppers
Yield: 20 pieces
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 breadcrumbs 1 teaspoon garlic powder (granulated garlic) 1 tablespoon olive oil
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven; preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking oil spray.
Stir together the Monterey Jack cheese, cream cheese, ricotta cheese and cilantro in a bowl, until well incorporated. Use about 2 teaspoons of the mixture to fill each jalapeño half.
Spread flour on a plate and season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper.
Beat the egg in a separate bowl. Spread the panko breadcrumbs on a separate plate and season with the garlic powder and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Toss the seasoned breadcrumbs with oil until evenly coated.
Toss each stuffed jalapeño in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess, then in the egg, and finally in the seasoned panko, shaking off the excess. Each piece should be coated all around in the mixture. Arrange the coated jalapeños, cut sides up, on the baking sheet. Roast (upper rack) for 30 to 35 minutes, until the coating is golden brown and the cheese has melted a bit.
Nutrition information per piece: 45 calories, 2 g protein, 3 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.