It doesn’t have to be Cinco de Mayo to enjoy these treats. Any warm weather gathering will do. These guys are truly versatile. I made this batch gluten-free by switching out the panko with a gluten-free version. Are you living the low-carb life? Eliminate the panko crumbs altogether and top these off with crumbled bacon bits.
The peppers are actually roasted several times. The first time they are oiled up and then place under the broiler until they are charred. No need to flip them over. Just get some good color on one side.
Once they are totally cooled, they are then flipped over so that the charred side is underneath. Cut off the top third of each pepper, from the stem to the tip. Reserve the pepper that was cut off for another use …maybe add a few pieces to your salad or throw some in with your next batch of roasted potatoes.
The seeds and membranes are scooped out and any excess moisture should be removed. What we are creating here are little pepper “boats” or vessels to hold the yummy queso filling. Let’s work on that filling.
The filling couldn’t be easier to prepare. The milk and cheese are heated up slowly until the combination becomes smooth and creamy. Then the cream cheese and chopped pickled jalapeños are mixed in.
This is another place where these can be customized. The jalapeños give the final dish quite a bit of kick. If you’re not into that, replace them with mild banana rings or sweet pickled pepper. Or if want more heat, use chopped fresh jalapeños instead. Whatever floats your pepper boat.
Work quickly when filling each mini pepper. The queso tends to thicken quite a bit as it cools. And don’t overload them. The queso filling is a bit rich …a little goes a long way. While these guys are finishing up in the oven, let’s get the crumb topping prepared. It’s fairly straightforward …melt the butter in a small skillet. Add the panko breadcrumbs. Stir them around over medium heat until they are toasty and crunchy. That’s it.
When the filled mini peppers are ready to come out of the oven, you’ll be all set.
Transfer these bad boys over to your serving dish or tray and top them off with a generous sprinkling of crispy panko crumbs and fresh chopped cilantro. Add some extra color if you like, by placing fresh jalapeño slices here and there along with sprigs of fresh cilantro. The vibrant colors create a beautiful presentation. But that’s not the best part. These queso-filled mini peppers are simply delicious. You’ll see. Just sit back with your margarita and accept the many compliments.
queso-filled mini peppers
Adapted from a recipe by Emily Nabors Hall as featured in Southern Living.
Forget the tortilla chips & queso dip. Try these handheld treats instead.
- 2 16-ounce packages mini sweet peppers
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapeños
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (or gluten-free panko)
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Preheat broiler on HIGH with the oven rack about 5 inches from heat. Toss the peppers with oil and salt; arrange them in a single layer on an aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil until the tops are lightly charred, about 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool to room temperature for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 425°F.
Using the same foil-lined baking sheet, flip over each pepper so that the charred side is on the bottom. Cut and remove the top third of each pepper from stem end to tip. Reserve the cut-off piece for another use. Scoop out the membranes and seeds, and discard. Drain off any excess moisture.
Whisk together the pepper Jack cheese and milk in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Whisk until smooth for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in the cream cheese and chopped jalapeños. Spoon about a teaspoon of cheese mixture into each pepper; adjust accordingly depending on the size of the pepper. Do not overfill. Bake until the tops are golden for 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium. Add the panko and black pepper; cook, stirring, until golden brown, 3 more minutes. Sprinkle the filled mini peppers with the panko mixture and chopped cilantro.
To Make Ahead: Place filled peppers in a baking dish; cover and chill 1 day. Bake, covered, at 425˚F for 10 minutes, and then uncover and bake 3 more minutes. Top with panko mixture and cilantro.