By Dennis Linden
Viviana Fernandez, a member of Melissa’s National Sales Team, contributed this month’s recipe celebrating the current Hatch Chile season. The dish is Viviana’s twist on a traditional Rajas using the flavorful pepper, roasted for even more flavor, then simmered with sweet onion rings and fresh corn in a seasoned cream cheese sauce laced with bits of Mexican white cheese and seasoning. Hatch Chile comfort foot! Rajas means “strips” in Spanish. The classic dish in Mexican cuisine translates as “strips with cheese.” In the traditional version of this dish both the peppers, usually Poblano, and the onion are sliced into 2″ b 1/4″ strips.
“Well my mother has always made this dish with cut up onion, squash, tomato and cactus leaf strips. While my husband grew up with the recipe’s more traditional ingredients,” explained Viviana. “So one evening, tired of the same dish, my husband and I decided to do it a little different. The tweaks are subtle, using Hatch chile, a different cut of onion and adding in the Knorr seasoning to the cream sauce, but the difference in flavor is quite noticeable. In fact, my father who is a picky eater and very used to my mom’s recipe for this dish did not want to try it at first. Now, whenever we make it, we always put aside a serving just for Dad!”
If you have never roasted and peeled a Hatch pepper before, do not be intimidated – it can be fun, especially managing 4 (or maybe 6) stovetop burners at once – each with a couple of peppers roasting on them at the same time! Hints: keep turning each until completely blackened on the outside – do not worry about burning the inside of the pepper, trust me; despite appearances the pepper is hardly cooked at all. Have tongs will travel – be quick and nimble hopping from burner to burner. Have several small paper lunch bags or plastic storage bags laid out, readied; as when a pepper is done, quickly pop it into a bag and seal it tightly, then let the pepper steam for about ten minutes. With several bags you can manage the peppers coming off the flame at differing times without reopening the ones already sealed. The roasting adds flavor and enables the outer skin of the pepper to be peeled away quite easily and cleanly under the tap.
Once the peppers are roasted and sliced into long strips the recipe preparation will go quite quickly. Cook up a pot of rice while Viviana’s short and simple list of supporting ingredients simmer into the Hatch strips. Chef’s suggestion: flavor the rice with a few teaspoons of Knorr Seasoning in the rice water during its prep. While Viviana did not mention it, I thought this dish called for a stack of warm tortillas. It just seemed a natural combo to mix in the rice with the Hatch strips and then wrap the mixture in a tortilla. Exquisito!
Viviana Fernandez has been a member of the Melissa’s Sales Team for a little more than three years. She deals with retailers on the east coast as well as in the Southern California region. While coming from a very different kind of sales position servicing the hospitality industry, Viviana says that her position at Melissa’s is amazing, rewarding and challenging.
“I find the business of shipping fresh produce across the country amazing,” Viviana said. “And some of that produce has already traveled thousands of miles to our facilities from other countries. For the most part, it all arrives in good condition looking as fresh as if it came right out of the field! Sales can be challenging at times, especially when introducing a new item to customers who need to be talked into trying something different. Still, I have learned that perseverance always wins out if the quality is there. The most challenging part of sales, and I believe the key to the whole company’s success, is simple communication. This business goes so much smoother when everyone is on the same page. Lack of communication has a domino effect from the sales desk to the warehouse to the customer. It’s my biggest daily challenge.”
When Viviana leaves the office each day, she goes to what she says is her other full-time job: Ivan (6), Mia (4) and Ayden (1). In preparation for these articles, I always ask the contributing chef if he or she has any hobbies or interests outside of the office. In Viviana’s case I think her time in the office is probably the quietest and most orderly part of her day!
“While the kids can all be a handful sometimes, they are also a blessing,” said Viviana. “My husband and I do love to take the whole family on road trips. Short road trips that can be done in one day roundtrip. They are too young for any longer trips yet, or maybe we’re not ready! Anyway, the outings get us all away from the house. It does the whole family good to spend time together doing fun stuff away from the daily routine.”
We are grateful that Viviana found the time to share her family’s very tasty dish. Enjoy the Hatch season!
Hatch Rajas Cremosas
2 TBS olive oil
2 Melissa’s Perfect Sweet onions, sliced into rings
15 Hatch Chile peppers – roasted, peeled, seeded, sliced length-wise in ½-inch strips
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or canned
6 oz. Queso Panela (Mexican Cheese), small cubed
8 TBS Sour Cream
2 TBS Knorr Chicken seasoning
Roast the Hatch peppers over an open flame; once blistered black all over, immediately put them in a sealed plastic or paper bag for 10 minutes. The skin can then be easily removed by rubbing each pepper under cool water. Seed and slice into long strips.
In a large cooking pot, brown the onion rings in olive oil. Then add in the peppers strips, corn and cheese cubes. Mix thoroughly and cook until cheese is incorporated.
Turn down the heat, add the Knorr Seasoning and sour cream. Mix and let mixture come back up to bubbling.
Serve hot with warm tortillas and white rice on the side.