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Healthy poppers that taste great

by SARA MOULTON Associated Press on June 29, 2014 1:54 AM

Standard jalapeño poppers are thumb-sized hot peppers stuffed with cream cheese and cheddar cheese, then breaded and deep-fried. Yummy, but most home cooks aren’t too excited for the mess of deep-frying. That’s why there also is a baked version — half a jalapeño stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon.

Both types are delicious, but neither is all that healthy. So my version delivers gratification without overdoing it.

From a culinary point of view, jalapeño poppers make complete sense. Nothing tames a chili’s heat like dairy. That’s why so many cultures serve their fiery entrees with dairy as a side dish. The Mexicans team up spicy tortillas with crema. The Indians serve hot curries with yogurt-based raita. And that’s why cheese is right at home in a jalapeño popper.

But it doesn’t have to be high-fat cheese. The fresh goat cheese in this recipe delivers the required creaminess, while a very modest amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano delivers the required flavor.

I brightened up the filling with scallions and lemon zest, then wrapped the stuffed jalapeño in prosciutto, my substitute for bacon. Though it has a lot less fat than bacon, prosciutto boasts big pork flavor. And when it’s baked, as it is here, it’s nice and crispy, which eliminates the need to coat the pepper with breadcrumbs.

A couple of tips for preparing the jalapeño. First, be sure to wear rubber gloves when you’re halving and gutting the peppers. No matter how macho you’re feeling, you don’t want those capsaicin oils burning your hands. Also, use a grapefruit spoon, if you have one, to remove the pepper’s innards — its ribs and seeds — which are the hottest parts of a chili.

Then serve it your guests with pride. They’ll never notice that many of its typical ingredients have gone AWOL.

BAKED PROSCIUTTO-WRAPPED JALAPEÑO POPPERS

Start to finish: 45 minutes (30 minutes active)

Servings: 6

4 ounces fresh goat cheese

1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup finely chopped scallion greens

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

6 jalapeño peppers

3 ounces (12 slices) prosciutto

Heat the oven to 450 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then coat it with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the goat cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, scallion greens and lemon zest. Halve the jalapeños lengthwise and carefully remove the ribs and seeds (wear rubber gloves if necessary to protect your hands). Stuff each half with the cheese mixture, being sure to use all of the cheese mixture.

Wrap 1 slice of prosciutto around each stuffed jalapeño half, overlapping the ends of the prosciutto on the bottom of the jalapeño. Arrange the poppers on the prepared baking sheet, then bake on the oven’s center rack until the prosciutto is slightly crispy, about 15 minutes.

Nutrition information per serving: 110 calories; 7 g fat; 25 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 10 g protein; 540 mg sodium.

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