Rajas con crema is a popular Mexican dish that consists of sliced poblano peppers cooked in a creamy sauce. It is most commonly served as a side dish or topping for tacos, tostadas, enchiladas and more. But where exactly does this delicious dish originate from?
The History of Rajas Con Crema
The origins of rajas con crema can be traced back to the state of Puebla in central Mexico. Poblano peppers are named after the city of Puebla, where they have been cultivated since the early colonial period. During the 19th century, Mexican home cooks began experimenting with new ways of preparing the popular local pepper. One of these innovations was to cook sliced poblanos in a simple cream sauce spiced with garlic and onion. Over time, this dish became known as rajas con crema.
The creamy, gently spicy rajas quickly became a staple side dish throughout central Mexico. From Puebla, it spread to Mexico City and neighboring states. Its popularity was aided by the increased availability of dairy products in Mexico during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before then, cream and milk had been relatively scarce commodities.
By the mid 20th century, rajas con crema was well established as one of Mexico’s classic regional side dishes. Its bright colors and mild flavor profile made it a perfect accompaniment to richly flavored main courses like moles, carnitas, and carne asada. The dish gained nationwide appeal and disseminated to Mexican restaurants across the country.
Today, rajas con crema can be found on menus throughout Mexico and the United States. It remains a specialty of the Puebla region, but is prepared and enjoyed from Baja California to Yucatan. While recipes vary somewhat from cook to cook, the basic combination of sliced poblanos, onion, garlic, cream and Mexican herbs and spices is consistent.
Ingredients in Traditional Rajas Con Crema
The ingredients that go into authentic rajas con crema are relatively straightforward:
- Poblano peppers – Sliced into thin strips, this is the star ingredient.
- Onions – Thinly sliced white, yellow or red onions add flavor.
- Garlic – Minced cloves give a subtle background heat.
- Heavy cream or crema – Adds lushness and ties the ingredients together.
- Chicken broth or water – Provides moisture for simmering the peppers.
- Butter – A small amount is often used to sauté the onions and peppers.
- Salt and pepper – Season to taste.
- Fresh epazote or cilantro – Chopped for herbal flavor.
These simple ingredients meld together into a comforting and flavorful side. The poblano strips provide fresh pepper flavor and a bold splash of color. Slow simmering renders them soft and silky, while still retaining a hint of crispness. The onions and garlic add layers of savory depth without overpowering the poblanos. Finally, the rich cream ties everything together into a luscious, sauce-like consistency.
Like many iconic Mexican recipes, rajas con crema has spawned numerous regional variations:
Cooks in Oaxaca often add locally grown herbs like papalo or chepil to the dish for unique flavors. Spices like cumin and cloves may also make an appearance.
Veracruz-style rajas con crema is characteristically tangy. Cooks add a splash of fresh lime juice or vinegar along with capers, green olives and chopped hard boiled eggs.
On the Yucatan Pensinsula, rajas take on local flavor with the addition of distinctive ingredients like achiote paste, sour orange juice and habanero chiles.
In California, cooks take advantage of the state’s abundant produce. Variations may include corn, zucchini, mushrooms and greens like spinach or chard.
In New Mexico, cooks forgo poblanos in favor of the prolific regional Hatch chiles. Onions are replaced with Roasted green chile, resulting in a bolder, spicier dish.
No matter the regional variations, the essential combination of chiles, onions, cream and seasonings stays the same. This allows for endless creativity within the basic rajas formula!
How To Make Rajas Con Crema
Making rajas con crema at home is easy. Here is a simple recipe:
- 3 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and sliced into strips
- 1 small white onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup heavy cream or Mexican crema
- 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro or epazote
- Roast the poblano peppers over an open flame or under the broiler until blackened and charred all over. Place in a bowl, cover, and let steam for 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Peel off skins, cut open peppers and remove seeds. Slice peppers into thin strips.
- In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the minced garlic and continue cooking for 1 minute.
- Add the sliced roasted poblanos, heavy cream or crema, and chicken broth to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer.
- Allow the mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the poblanos are very soft and the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Remove from heat, stir in the cilantro or epazote, and serve warm.
This easy rajas con crema recipe can be enjoyed as is, or modified by adding herbs, spices, vegetables, or other ingredients to suit your taste. It makes a delicious accompaniment to tacos, meat dishes, eggs, or just about anything!
What to Serve with Rajas Con Crema
Rajas con crema serves as an excellent side dish or taco topping. Here are some tasty options for serving it:
Top corn or flour tortillas with rajas, protein, onions, cilantro and cotija cheese for spectacular tacos.
Spread refried or black beans over crispy tostada shells, top with rajas, queso fresco and Mexican crema.
Layer rajas and mozzarella or Oaxaca cheese between tortillas before griddling quesadillas.
For breakfast, mix crispy tortilla chips with simmered rajas, salsa and fried eggs.
Roll corn tortillas stuffed with rajas and cheese around other fillings, then smother in enchilada sauce.
Spoon rajas over fried corn tortillas and eggs for a twist on classic huevos rancheros.
In coastal regions, tangy rajas are combined with raw fish or shrimp cured in lime juice and spices.
However you choose to serve it, rajas con crema never disappoints. This versatile dish can be incorporated into everything from breakfast scrambles to taco fillings to tostadas. With its mild chile flavor, velvety texture and gorgeous green color, rajas con crema brings character and richness to any Mexican meal.
Nutrition Facts of Rajas Con Crema
Like many vegetable-based Mexican dishes, rajas con crema offers an array of nutrients. Here is a breakdown of what’s inside each delicious bite:
Poblano peppers are an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamin C, providing about 144% of the RDI per cup. They also contain vitamin A, vitamin B6 and folate.
Rajas con crema provides key minerals like potassium and manganese. Poblanos are one of the best plant-based sources of potassium, which supports heart health and fluid balance.
The poblano peppers and optional onion and garlic boost the fiber content of this dish. Fiber promotes healthy digestion and helps control blood sugar and cholesterol.
Poblano peppers contain beneficial plant compounds like capsaicin, which has anti-inflammatory effects. Onions and garlic provide the phytochemical allicin.
There is a modest amount of protein in the vegetables and optional cream or broth used in rajas con crema.
With its fresh veggies and rich cream, rajas con crema is more nutritious than many classic Mexican sides based on rice, potatoes or pasta. It provides a array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants with relatively few calories per serving.
Substitutions and Variations
Part of the fun of rajas con crema is experimenting with new flavor variations. Here are some ingredient substitution ideas:
- Instead of poblanos, try Anaheim, jalapeño, serrano or Hatch chiles.
- Substitute onions with shallots, leeks or scallions.
- Replace heavy cream with Mexican crema, queso fresco, Greek yogurt or vegetable broth.
- Use cilantro, epazote, mint, basil, oregano or parsley as the fresh herb.
- Add veggies like corn, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach or potatoes.
- Stir in spices like cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves or Mexican oregano.
- Top with queso fresco, cotija, avocado, pickled onions, toasted pepitas or crema.
Rajas con crema adapts well to countless flavor combinations beyond the classic version. You can stay true to the dish’s roots while giving it your own creative spin based on the fresh, seasonal ingredients you have on hand.
Where to Find Rajas Con Crema in Mexico
When traveling in Mexico, be sure to sample rajas con crema in its regional forms. Here are some of the best places to seek it out:
As the birthplace of rajas, Puebla has perfected the dish. Look for it on menus and in home cooking throughout the state of Puebla.
The country’s cosmopolitan capital has excellent rajas at restaurants like Pujol, Fonda Fina and El Califa.
Seek out Oaxacan takes on rajas con crema with local herbs and moles at eateries in Oaxaca City or smaller towns.
The lively seafood restaurants in Veracruz serve rajas with a tangy, coastal flair.
Try Yucatecan-style rajas con crema with habanero kick and bitter orange at restaurants in Mérida.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
This charming highland town is a great spot to sample creative rajas variations at local restaurants and markets.
Seeking out authentic rajas while traveling in Mexico is a rewarding way to explore the country’s diverse culinary landscape. Choosing rajas as a side dish is also a smart move – it pairs deliciously with just about any regional entrée!
Interesting Facts about Rajas Con Crema
Here are a few fun factoids to share the next time you dig into a warm bowl of rajas con crema:
- The name “rajas” comes from the Spanish word for “strips”, referring to the sliced poblano peppers.
- In Pre-Hispanic times, poblanos were one of the most commonly grown crops in central Mexico.
- The dish emerged when chiles, onions and dairy became more available to home cooks in 19th century Puebla.
- Poblanos are also known as “Ancho” peppers when dried.
- While creamy rajas are most popular, cooks also make them with red enchilada sauce (“rajas en salsa roja”) or as a stew called “rajas rancheras”.
- In the 1990s, rajas con crema started appearing on menus at Mexican restaurants in the US as part of a “modern Mexican” movement.
- Their mild heat, texture, and colors make them popular with kids and picky eaters.
- Rajas freezes well for up to 3 months, making it convenient for batch cooking.
Next time you spot rajas con crema on a menu or picnicking platter, dig in and appreciate the stories and tradition in each bite of this beloved Mexican side dish!
Rajas con crema has come a long way from humble beginnings in Puebla kitchens to gracing menus across Mexico and the globe. But at its core, this creamy pepper dish represents the heart of Mexican cuisine. With harmonious flavors, simple ingredients, and endless room for artistic interpretation, rajas con crema embodies everything people know and love about the food south of the border.
Mastering a classic recipe like rajas while also putting your own creative stamp on it is the epitome of Mexican cooking. We must tip our hats to those unnamed Poblanan cooks who first realized that simmering local peppers in cream would create such magic. Their intuitive recipe has stood the test of time and likely will continue satisfying palates for generations to come.