When we were pondering the menu for our BBQ, one of the first dishes I was quick to suggest is tuna-stuffed jalapeños as an appetizer. It’s a dish I learned about from one of my sisters-in-law and we really love them, but they are best shared with a crowd. Made with whole, pickled jalapeños — which are very low in calories — and filled with a simple tuna salad made with light dressing and reduced-fat cheese, it’s not the caloric nightmare that so many appetizers can be.
I bet you didn’t know that jalapeños are actually a fruit, did you? (Isn’t Wikipedia handy? 😉 )
Jalapeños are a pod type of Capsicum. The growing period is 70–80 days. When mature, the plant stands two and a half to three feet tall. Typically a plant produces twenty-five to thirty-five pods. During a growing period, a plant will be picked multiple times. As the growing season ends, jalapeños start to turn red. Jalapeños thrive in a number of soil types, and temperatures if they are provided with adequate water. Once picked, individual peppers ripen to red of their own accord. The peppers can be eaten green or red.
Jalapeños have 2,500 – 8,000 Scoville heat units. Compared to other chilis, the jalapeño has a heat level that varies from mild to hot depending on cultivation and preparation. The heat, caused by capsaicin and related compounds, is concentrated in the membrane (placenta) surrounding the seeds, which are called picante.
And in case you’re unfamiliar with the Scoville scale:
The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present. Capsaicin is a chemical compound that stimulates chemoreceptornerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes.
IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTICE: Whenever you’re working with hot peppers, such as jalapeños (or even a milder pepper, such as a poblano), it is VERY IMPORTANT that you wear gloves while handling the peppers, as the capsaicin oils in the peppers could irritate your skin to the point of blistering it. I always wear disposable gloves so I can just toss them out when done. It is also VERY IMPORTANT not to touch your face, most especially your eyes, while handling peppers. Once you’re done handling the peppers, carefully remove the gloves (I always peel them off so that they’re coming off “inside out” to help avoid the risk of accidentally coming into contact with those concentrated pepper oils) and discard them, and then carefully disinfect the area where you were working with the peppers.
The “heat” in a jalapeño is mostly in the seeds and ribs of the pepper. By removing the seeds and ribs, you remove the lion’s share of the capsaicin, making the peppers safe to handle with bare hands once they’ve been filled, although you should, of course, still keep your hands away from your face, most especially your eyes, after coming in to contact with any kind of pepper.
Tuna-Stuffed Jalapeños (Makes a delicious plateful)
- Large can or jar (26 ounces) whole green pickled jalapeños
- Approximately 10 to 12 ounces white tuna, drained (suggest water-packed tuna or the no-drain foil packs)
- Light mayonnaise (such as Light Hellman’s) or light salad dressing (such as Light Miracle Whip)
- Squirt of yellow mustard
- Sweet or dill relish to taste (I prefer dill relish)
- Shredded cheese to taste (suggest reduced-fat sharp cheddar)
- Coarse ground black pepper to taste
- Drain tuna and place in a medium-sized bowl.
- Carefully drain jalapeños, reserving the carrot and onion.
- Wearing gloves and using a sharp knife, cut off the stem from each jalapeño, slice in half lengthwise, and carefully remove seeds and ribs.
- Arrange jalapeño halves on a plate or platter to await filling.
- Dice the carrot and onion and add to the tuna.
- Carefully remove gloves.
- Clean surrounding surface to make sure all traces of jalapeño oils and juices are removed.
- Finish making simple, basic tuna salad: Add in a dollop of light salad dressing or mayonnaise (seriously, it takes less than most people think, so start with just a bit — you can always add more, but you can take it out once it’s in there!), squirt of yellow mustard, coarse ground black pepper, healthy dollop of relish, and some grated cheese. Mix together, taste, and season accordingly. (If your container of pickled jalapeños was a bit light on carrot and onion, you made need to add a bit more finely diced onion to the mixture.)
- Fill jalapeños with tuna mixture. Cover and refrigerate. Keep leftovers stored in refrigerator.
Any leftover tuna salad (and you will likely have some) transforms a simple cracker or tortilla into something positively YUMMY! ’cause remember, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot!” 😉 (Go on, give it a listen — you know it’s been a while since you’ve heard it. 😉 )