My friend Yolanda Fajardo and her husband are moving to Texas to be closer to her son’s family. When I said I wanted to throw her a going away party, she said absolutely not. Too embarrassing. So I insisted we at least cook something together, since we never had, even after our dozens of conversations about food over the years.
She agreed (Yay!), and today we made ejote (green bean) rellenos, and chaote rellenos. They are the much less common cousins to the chile rellenos which you’ve probably seen/eaten in Mexican restaurants. Originally from El Salvador, Yolanda describes this as an everyday sort of meal, although you would be hard put to find this version when out to eat.
Sarah and I were assistant chefs, and neighbors Sharon, Patty and Steve joined us as well (Patty brought homemade sugar cookies for dessert, and Sharon had to run out and fetch the queso fresca I forgot to get). It was a nice little gathering. Yolanda still has family in town, so hopefully we’ll get together in the future. Maybe we’ll cook yummy things again.
fresh green beans
Peel the chaote and cut into ~1/4-1/3 inch wide slabs, and boil until just soft, al dente. Cook the green beans too (I microwave them for 5′ in a covered glass container, essentially steaming them, but not so much that they turn into mush).
Boil three tomatoes (whole) and a small onion (quartered), together in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover them. This is for the sauce (salsa), that the rellenos sit in later, just before serving. When finished boiling, blend everything together (even the water they boiled in!), and set aside.
The cheese filling could be mixed with just about anything, according to Yolanda. She likes to include at least one package of the queso palena. But then in addition, you could use another package of the queso palena, or queso fresca (which you can find at regular groceries like Vons, and which we did today), or even mozzarella.
The key ingredient, though, says Yolanda, if you want the very distinctive El Salvadoran flavor, is the loroco, an edible flower. You’re going to have a hard time finding those fresh anywhere but at an El Salvadoran market. I sampled one before they all went in the food processor with the cheese. It reminded me of okra, but tiny, and with more flavor.
To make the insides of the rellenos, put the green beans in rows of four, close together like a wee green veggie raft. The cheese mixture is patted into a rectangular shape and placed on top of the green beans. Then more green beans are placed on top of the cheese. The idea is to encase the cheese in green beans. The process is similar with the chaote slices, but because the pieces are broader, you can just make sandwiches out of two slices with cheese mix in the middle.
To make the batter, separate 8-9 eggs, and beat the whites with a little salt until very stiff. Then add a spoonful of flour and the yolks, beating again until you have a beautiful, frothy yellow batter.
Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a pan. Two or three at a time, dip the veggie/cheese packets into the batter, and place carefully on the hot oil. Flip when the one side has cooked, then remove to the growing pile of gorgeous golden brown bundles until they’ve all been fried.
Now pour off most of the oil, leaving enough in the pan to finish the salsa. Add the blended water, onion, and tomato to the remaining hot oil, and cook the salsa down a little bit. If you have some slices of onion left, add those to the salsa now. Then place the rellenos in the pan to heat back up and soak in the sauce a little immediately before serving.
Good luck on your move Yolanda! See you next time!