A chile relleno is a popular Mexican dish consisting of a roasted and peeled chile pepper that is stuffed with cheese, dipped in an egg batter, and fried. Chile rellenos can be found on menus at Mexican restaurants across the United States and are often considered an indulgent, high-calorie dish. However, the calorie content of a chile relleno can vary greatly depending on the specific ingredients and preparation methods used. When made at home, the number of calories in a chile relleno depends on key factors like the type and amount of cheese, the cooking oil used for frying, and any additional ingredients added to the filling or batter.
Calories in the Chile Pepper
The foundation of a chile relleno is the roasted and peeled chile pepper itself. The most common types used are poblano, Anaheim, and Hatch chile peppers. By itself, the chile pepper contains minimal calories:
|Chile Pepper||Calories per Pepper|
So the chile itself contributes only around 15 calories or less to the overall dish. The chile skin is removed before stuffing and frying, so the calorie count remains low. However, any seeds or membranes left on the inside of the pepper will slightly increase the calories.
Calories in the Cheese Filling
The filling is where a chile relleno starts to accumulate most of its calories. A typical filling consists of cheese, such as queso fresco, Monterey jack, cheddar, or Oaxaca. One ounce of queso fresco or Monterey jack cheese contains around 100 calories, while cheddar or Oaxaca contain 110-120 calories per ounce.
Most chile relleno recipes call for 4-8 ounces of shredded or diced cheese in the filling. Using 6 ounces or 3/4 cup as an average amount, the cheese contributes about 450-480 calories to the dish.
In addition to cheese, the filling may also contain small amounts of spices, vegetables like onions or garlic, and herbs. These extra ingredients add minimal additional calories, approximately:
|1/4 cup onions, chopped||25|
|1 clove garlic, minced||5|
|1 tbsp cilantro, chopped||1|
|Pinch ground cumin||3|
So the total calories just for the stuffed filling will be approximately 510 calories or more, depending on the exact cheese and amounts used.
Calories in the Egg Batter
Once stuffed, the chile pepper is dipped in a light egg batter before being fried. A simple batter may contain:
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 tsp salt
Here is the calorie breakdown for a basic egg batter:
|2 large eggs||140|
|1/4 cup all-purpose flour||100|
|1/4 cup milk||30|
|1/4 tsp salt||0|
The egg batter adds approximately 270 calories to the chile relleno. The batter helps seal in the filling and provides a light, crunchy exterior after frying.
Calories from Frying in Oil
The final step in preparing a chile relleno is frying it in oil until crispy. The amount of calories derived from frying depends on:
- Type of oil used
- Amount of oil used
- Frying time
Chile rellenos are traditionally fried in vegetable or canola oil. One tablespoon of vegetable oil contains about 120 calories. Most recipes call for 2-3 cups of frying oil. Assuming you use 2 1/2 cups of oil, the total calorie count just from the frying oil is:
2.5 cups oil x 16 tbsp per cup = 40 tbsp oil
40 tbsp x 120 calories per tbsp = 4,800 calories
However, a chile relleno absorbs only a portion of the oil it is fried in. Approximately 10-15% of the oil is absorbed by the food during frying. So for 2 1/2 cups of frying oil, a chile relleno will absorb about 300-400 calories of oil while frying.
Total Calories in a Chile Relleno
Adding up the calories from each component gives us the total calories in a homemade chile relleno:
So on average, a homemade chile relleno has approximately 1,100 calories. This calorie count is for a standard relleno with no alterations or additions to the basic recipe.
Factors that Increase Calories
There are some variations in ingredients and preparation methods that can further increase the calorie count of a chile relleno:
- Using higher fat cheeses like Monterey jack or queso fresco instead of lower-fat Oaxaca or cheddar
- Adding extra cheese, meat, or rice to the filling
- Frying in higher calorie oils like lard or coconut oil instead of vegetable oil
- Double dipping the chile in egg batter before frying
- Serving with high-calorie sides like refried beans, rice, or sour cream
With some of these tweaks, a chile relleno could end up having closer to 1,500 calories or more per serving.
Ways to Reduce Calories
On the other hand, there are some simple ways to lighten a chile relleno recipe and cut back on calories:
- Use lower fat Oaxaca or a blend of cheeses in the filling
- Reduce the amount of cheese to 4 ounces
- Use nonstick cooking spray instead of oil for frying
- Opt for batter frying instead of dipping in egg batter
- Broil or bake instead of frying
- Serve with lime wedges, tomato salsa, or avocado instead of heavy sides
Implementing some of these tweaks could bring the calorie count down to the 800-900 range for a lighter take on the classic chile relleno.
In addition to calories, a homemade chile relleno provides a range of nutrients:
The majority of calories come from fat, given the high-fat cheese filling and oil used for frying. There is also a good amount of protein from the cheese and eggs. Vitamins and minerals are limited since there are no vegetables, but the chile pepper provides some vitamin C, vitamin A, and iron.
Chile rellenos are rich, indulgent dishes. A typical restaurant serving is 1 relleno. Consuming a whole chile relleno containing over 1,000 calories is a heavy meal for one person.
When making chile rellenos at home, consider splitting a batch of 4-6 rellenos between 4-6 people. This works out to:
- 4 rellenos / 4 people = 250 calories per serving
- 6 rellenos / 6 people = 185 calories per serving
Smaller serving sizes let you enjoy the taste of a crispy chile relleno without overdoing your calorie intake in one sitting.
Cost of Ingredients
The cost to make homemade chile rellenos depends on the specific ingredients used, but expect to spend $15-20 to make 4-6 rellenos. Here are typical costs for enough ingredients to make 4-6 chile rellenos serving 4-6 people:
|6 poblano peppers||$3|
|1 lb Oaxaca cheese||$6|
|1 cup flour||$0.50|
|Oil for frying||$2|
|Herbs and spices||$1|
Buying a pack of 6 already roasted/peeled chile peppers helps save time and labor. Opt for block Oaxaca cheese and shred or dice it yourself to save money over pre-shredded cheese. With these cost-cutting tips, you can make a batch of chile rellenos for around $3-4 per serving.
Tips for Making Chile Rellenos
Follow these tips for the best homemade chile rellenos:
- Select poblano, Anaheim, or Hatch chiles that are fresh, firm, and evenly colored
- Roast chiles evenly until completely charred, then immediately steam in a covered bowl to help remove skins
- Completely remove all skins, stems and seeds from chiles before stuffing
- Pat chiles dry before filling to help sealing and prevent excessive oil absorption
- Stuff chiles lightly but evenly with filling using a spoon or piping bag
- Preheat frying oil to 375°F and fry chiles 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown
- Let excess oil drain off on a cooling rack or paper towels
- Serve immediately while hot and crispy
With these handy tips and tricks, you’ll be a chile relleno pro in no time!
Are chile rellenos spicy?
Chile rellenos can range from mild to moderately spicy depending on the types of peppers used. Poblanos are one of the milder peppers and provide great flavor with little heat. Selecting a spicier pepper like Hatch or Anaheim will make the rellenos pack more spice.
What is the best cheese for chile rellenos?
Oaxaca and Monterey Jack are traditional favorite cheeses to use for the filling. Their slightly salty flavor complements the chiles beautifully. Cheddar or queso fresco also work well. Avoid very soft cheeses that will not hold their shape when stuffed into the chiles.
Can I freeze homemade chile rellenos?
Yes, chile rellenos freeze well for up to 3 months. Stuff the chiles with filling and dip in batter, then place on a parchment lined sheet pan and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to freezer bags. To cook, simply bake frozen rellenos at 400°F for 20-25 minutes.
Should chile rellenos be fried or baked?
Frying gives chile rellenos a deliciously crispy texture, but baking is a healthier option. Brush with oil and bake at 425°F for 30 minutes until browned and crisp. You’ll sacrifice some texture but still have great flavor.
A freshly fried, homemade chile relleno is one of the most crave-worthy Mexican dishes. Though often high in calories from frying and cheese, some simple ingredient swaps and prep adjustments can lighten up this indulgent meal. Next time a chile relleno craving strikes, consult this guide for tips on calculating calories, reducing fat and oil, saving money on ingredients, and successfully mastering all the steps for making this delicious dish at home.