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Stuff peppers for cheesy, spicy ‘pop’

There’s just something about little chiles that invites cheeky snacking.

On their own, after all, they don’t inspire eating to excess. But stuff them with cheese, wrap them in bacon, smother them in sauce or dip them in dressing, and you’ve got an addictive dish.

That potential was evident in this blog’s previous post highlighting mild shishito peppers. For those craving more heat, there’s jalapeno poppers.

It’s always hard to gauge, however, how hot a jalapeno will be. I’ve made poppers that were so spicy for a party that I was the only one who could stand to eat them. And I’ve also come up short on the spice with jalapenos that were uncommonly mild.

With both versions from two different gardens in my fridge, it would be easy to assemble a platter of poppers that would span the spiciness spectrum. And these two recipes, courtesy of Tribune News Service, offer a popper for meat lovers and vegetarian diners alike.

Tribune News Service photo

Texas Twinkies

6 whole, large jalapeno peppers

1 (8-ounce) package neufchatel or regular cream cheese

8 ounces smoked brisket

6 thick-cut strips bacon

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Sweet barbecue glaze (recipe follows)

Slice 1 side of each of the jalapenos from stem to tip. Slice across stem end; remove seeds and membranes. (You may want to wear gloves to avoid getting oil on your hands.) Place jalapenos on a baking sheet and bake at 300 F for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and place peppers in a bowl of ice water to extract additional seed oil. Increase oven heat to 350 F.

Cover each pepper’s inside bottom with approximately 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese, then stuff with 1/6th of the brisket. Close pepper around stuffing and wrap with a strip of the bacon, using a toothpick to secure. Repeat with remaining peppers, topping each with a pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper.

Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until peppers are soft and bacon is crisp. Turn oven to broil and broil peppers for another minute or two, until sizzling hot. Remove from oven and generously brush peppers with the barbecue glaze. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

SWEET BARBECUE GLAZE: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup dark brown sugar, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup mustard. Stir to combine, then bring glaze to a full boil. Let simmer for 5 minutes then remove from heat. Allow glaze to sit for another hour for flavors to mingle. Makes about 1 cup glaze.

Cheesy Vegetarian Poppers

8 large jalapeno peppers

8 ounces neufchatel or cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish

4 scallions, trimmed and chopped

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup panko or regular breadcrumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Halve the jalapeno peppers and remove seeds and membranes by scraping with a small spoon; also remove stems. Discard those pieces. Be careful not to touch your face, eyes or lips with fingers because even the tiniest bit of pepper oil will burn!

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, cilantro, scallions and garlic and onion powders. Stir to combine, then season to taste with the salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs and Parmesan.

Stuff peppers with cream cheese mixture. Top each pepper with some breadcrumb/Parmesan mixture and sprinkle with reserved chopped cilantro or parsley.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 13 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and poppers look golden. Serve immediately.

Makes 16 poppers.