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June 11, 2014

Just for Dad, a healthy take on jalapeno poppers

What to do on Father’s Day when it’s time to eat and you want to serve something manly and filling? Other than steak, that is. Here’s a nominee that re-engineers a classic sports bar appetizer — jalapeno poppers.

Standard jalapeno 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 jalapeno stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon.

Both types are delicious, but neither is all that healthy. After all, we want to keep Dad around for a while. So my version delivers guy’s-guy gratification without overdoing it.

From a culinary point of view, jalapeno 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 jalapeno 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 jalapeno 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 jalapenos. 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.

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