Fried Cheese and Pepper Tacos with Chili Spiked Cranberry Sauce
These crispy fried cheese and shishito or poblano pepper tacos with chili-spiked cranberry sauce are an addicting combination of savory, sweet, sour, spicy, crispy, and creamy flavors and textures.
The first thing I want to tell you about these tacos is that if you’re lucky, you’ll have some chili spiked cranberry sauce left over. I’m telling you this dear reader on good authority, as my current situation involves a toasted turkey sandwich with melted havarti and a generous dollop of chili cranberry sauce. It’s soooooo good and proof positive that leftovers are a beautiful thing.
THIS is the cranberry sauce that will be showing up on our Thanksgiving table from here on out.
Also, it’s going to make a few appearances throughout the rest of the year as well. Especially on tacos. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but a little Aleppo Pepper (or Ancho chili powder) in cranberry sauce is seriously, ridiculously good. The chili does what chilies do best – balance out sweet, salty, and tart flavors while adding a rich, slightly spicy smokiness that elevates the entire dish.
What I’m trying to say is… Chilis and Cranberries are the perfect match.
So, it’s no surprise that a little chili spiked cranberry sauce is a perfect compliment to seared shishito peppers (or roasted poblano peppers). Add some crispy fried cheese (FRIED CHEESE!) and you have a delicious combination of textures and flavors that leaves you wanting more. And more. And more.
Shishito Peppers – OR Poblano Peppers – OR Anaheim Peppers
I was introduced to shishito peppers late in life and have been doing my darndest to get caught up and consume my share of the past 40 years in which my life was, sadly, shishito-less. I’ve never met a pepper I didn’t like, but the greatest thing about shishito peppers is that they are so mild you can happily eat an entire plateful of them without the side effect of internal bleeding. (Not that that ever stops me.)
My favorite way to prepare shishito peppers is to simply sear them in a very hot pan with a teaspoon or so of olive oil until their skins are blackened and charred. Then, dump them into a bowl, sprinkle with flaky sea salt, and dive right in. That’s it. So simple.
That super simple preparation method is all that’s required for these tacos. You can even sear and salt the peppers ahead of time if you like. Although, if you do, you might want to make extra because you’re probably going to snack on a few. Or 20.
If you can’t find shishito peppers…
There are places in the world in which shishito peppers are in season year round. For the rest of us, they’re only available for a few months in the summer. Sadder still, there are many areas in which shishio peppers are not available at all, except by mail order. (Sad face.)
The good news is that Poblano peppers or Anaheim peppers, both of which are much more widely available, make excellent substitutions. I’ve included instructions for how to prepare Poblano or Anaheim peppers for these tacos in the note section of the recipe card.
I’m not sure that fried cheese needs any explanation. I mean, it’s Fried. Cheese. Simply slice up some Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco, coat it in a thick layer of panko bread crumbs, and fry in hot oil until the outside is all golden and crispy and the inside is all melted and gooey.
As is the case with all fried foods, it’s important to use a fry thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil. The cheese should be fried at approximately 325 – 340 degrees. As it cooks, do your best to adjust the burner heat so that the oil stays as close to 325 – 340 degrees as possible.
If the temperature of the oil is too low, the cheese will melt and run out into your pan before the breading gets all crispy and golden. If the temperature of the oil is too high, you’ll run the risk of burning the bread crumbs. If you’re frying anything, make it easy on yourself and get a fry thermometer.
Frozen Cranberries are the way to go.
For those of you thinking, “but cranberries are only available in my supermarket during November and December”, head on over to the freezer isle for a bag of frozen cranberries. Even when cranberries are in season, I generally prefer using frozen ones. I think because they freeze them right after picking, they are often more fresh than the bags of fresh cranberries in the produce section that have probably been sitting there for a while.
For the Chili Cranberry Sauce:
- 1 tbsp Aleppo Pepper (or ancho chili powder) *Link to purchase Aleppo Pepper online listed below.
- 5 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt)
- 2 tbsp lime zest
For the Shishito Pepper Tacos with Fried Cheese:
- 12 ounces Queso Blanco, Queso Fresco, or Queso Campesino cheese
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs *Link to purchase Panko bread crumbs online listed below.
- 16 ounces shishito peppers - OR 8 - 10 poblano or Anaheim peppers. *See note below for preparation instructions if using poblano or Anaheim peppers.
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- Vegetable or canola oil for frying the cheese - enough to come 1-2 inches up the side of a large skillet
- 12 - 18 corn tortillas (plan on 3 per person)
- Garnishes (optional): 1/2 chopped green onions and 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Make the Chili Cranberry Sauce:
- Add all the ingredients for the cranberry sauce except the lime zest to a medium size sauce pan. Set it over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. When the sauce begins to simmer, lower the heat slightly and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened - about 10-15 minutes.
- Scoop the sauce into a bowl and let cool completely. When cool, stir in the lime zest.
Make the tacos:
- Cut the cheese into pieces that are approximately 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick and 2 - 3 inches long. The length doesn't have to be exact, but try to keep the thickness under 1/2-inch.
- Add the flour to a shallow dish or pie plate and stir in 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp ground black pepper. Crack the eggs into a separate shallow dish or pie plate and whisk to combine. Add the panko bread crumbs to a third shallow dish or pie plate.
- Coat each piece of cheese in the flour, then dip in the beaten eggs, then coat with panko bread crumbs. Really press the panko bread crumbs into the cheese to achieve a thick coating. Set the breaded pieces of cheese on a plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to fry. (*This can be done up to 24 hours in advance.)
- Set a large skillet over high heat. When the pan is hot, add 1 tsp of olive oil, swirling it around to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Add about 1/3 of the peppers to the hot pan, spreading them out into one layer. As the peppers begin to sear and blacken on one side, use tongs to turn them over. Turn the peppers in the pan until at least 80% of their skin is blackened and charred. Remove the peppers to a bowl and sprinkle with salt.
- Repeat with the remaining peppers, adding a bit more olive oil to the pan with each batchm until all the peppers are seared. (*This can be done up to 24 hours ahead of time. Keep the seared peppers in a covered container in the refrigerator.)
- Rinse out the pan and dry it. Fill the pan with enough vegetable oil to come 1 -2 inches up the side and set it over high heat.
- When the oil registers between 325 and 340 degrees on a fry thermometer, use metal tongs to add 8-10 pieces of cheese to the oil. Cook the cheese until the breading is golden, turning them in the oil as needed. This shouldn't take more than 60 seconds. If you leave the cheese in the hot oil too long, it will start to leak out into the oil.
- Remove the fried cheese to a plate and cover loosly with aluminum foil to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining pieces of cheese.
- To soften the corn tortillas: Have 14 - 20 paper towels at the ready (enough to stack in between each corn tortilla). Immediately after frying the cheese, turn off the burner under the hot oil, but leave the pan on the stovetop. Using metal tongs, dip the corn tortillas in the hot oil one at a time, leaving them in the oil for just a second or two. Lift the tortilla from the oil, laying it on a paper towel. Repeat with remaining torillas, stacking them with paper towels inbetween each one.
- To serve: Lay one or two pieces of fried cheese in a tortilla and top with 4 - 6 seared shishito peppers. Add a dollop of cranberry sauce and sprinkle with chopped green onions and cilantro if using.
If using poblano or anaheim peppers:
- Heat a large skillet over high heat. When the skillet is very hot, lay the peppers in the skillet.
- Let them sear until blackened and charred, then turn them over. Continue turning the peppers in the pan until they at least 80% of their skin is blackened and charred.
- Alternatively, you can lay the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet and set them under your oven's broiler, positioning the pan so that it's about 2 - 4 inches from the heat. Let the peppers broil until blackened on one side then flip them over to blacken on the other.
- Remove the seared peppers from the pan and set them in a bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel the blackened skin from the peppers, removing the stems and seeds. Cut or tear the peeled peppers into strips that are approximatly 1-inch wide, then layer them into the tacos.
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Serving Size:3 tacos
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 871Total Fat: 29gSaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 227mgSodium: 1264mgCarbohydrates: 81gFiber: 8gSugar: 23gProtein: 71g