Rocotos Rellenos | Stuffed Rocoto Peppers

Rocotos Rellenos, aka stuffed rocoto peppers, feature Peruvian rocoto peppers stuffed with a mixture of seasoned ground or minced meat, onions, garlic, and various spices. Typically, hard-cooked egg, raisins, peanuts, and/or black olives are included as well. After the peppers are stuffed, I top them with queso fresco before the pepper tops are replaced, and they get baked. Muy bien!

Two rocotos rellenos on a black plate with salsa criolla and Peruvian potatoes.
A whole rocoto pepper, and a cross-section of a second one for rocoto salsa.

~~ James Street, The Grains of Paradise.

👩🏻‍🍳 Tamara Talks – About Rocoto Peppers and Rocotos Rellenos

Rocoto peppers, also known as rocotos, are chile peppers native to Peru and other Andean regions of South America. They belong to the species Capsicum pubescens and are distinct from other chili pepper varieties due to their unique characteristics.

Rocoto peppers are easily identifiable by their round shape and thick flesh. They are medium-sized peppers, ranging from about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) in diameter. The peppers can come in various colors, including red, orange, yellow, and green, depending on their level of ripeness. To me they look like small bell peppers, but beware, they’re hot! Despite their heat, rocoto peppers also possess a lovely fruity flavor, making them a popular ingredient in Peruvian cuisine.

Fresh rocotos are exceedingly difficult to find outside of South America. However, I can occasionally get “manzano” peppers at my local market in deep south Texas. Manzano peppers and rocoto peppers refer to the same variety of chile pepper. They are both names for the Capsicum pubescens species of peppers. Depending on the region and culinary tradition, they may be referred to by different names. In Peru, they are called rocoto peppers, in Mexico, they are known as manzano peppers.

Despite the difference in names, they are the same variety of pepper with similar characteristics, including their round shape, thick flesh, and distinct heat and flavor profile. I feel like the manzanos are not quite as hot, but that’s just personal experience!

My Version of Rocotos Rellenos

In creating my rocotos rellenos recipe, I tried to use ingredients that are at least somewhat accessible to home cooks outside of Peru. Fresh rocoto peppers are not readily available outside of South America. However, we do occasionally see manzano peppers at our markets in the southwest United States. On photo day, I had been able to buy them fresh for about 2 weeks.😁

In Peru, the stuffing is likely to be based on ground or minced alpaca. That is not “a thing” in the US, so I recommend ground beef or bison. I choose free-range bison for its lower fat and calories. You could also use ground pork, chicken, or turkey.

Many rocoto relleno recipes include an evaporated milk, egg, and cheese sauce. If you’re familiar with my Peruvian recipes like this ají de gallina, I don’t care for evaporated milk. I’m also fat and calories conscious. I chose to include aged cotija in the meat mixture to boost the flavor, and topped each pepper with a slice of queso fresco. These slimmed down peppers are really delicious. See the Ingredients Notes section for recommendations on substitutions.

📋 Ingredients Notes

Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.

Ingredients for rocotos rellenos including ground meet, manzano rocoto peppers, ají panca paste, garlic, onion, and spices.
  • rocoto peppers – Fresh is best, but not always possible. The next best thing is frozen whole peppers. I haven’t tried canned whole peppers. You could also use the filling to stuff a different pepper – bell peppers, Anaheims, etc.
  • ground or minced meat – In Peru, rocotos rellenos are likely to be made with alpaca. Alpaca is not available in the US. Always one to watch fats and calories, I use free-range ground bison rather than beef. NOTE: Feed lot raised bison is higher in fats and calories than free-range bison. Beef, bison, elk, pork, turkey, and chicken will all work!
  • onion – Peruvians use a LOT OF RED ONIONS! I sometimes substitute shallots if I have some that need to be used. If you need to sub in a yellow onion, it’ll be fine.
  • garlic
  • ground cumin
  • ají panca paste – Unfortunately, there is no substitute for ají panca paste. Buy ají panca paste online or at your Latin foods market.
  • raisins – Currants or golden raisins are fine as well.
  • olives – I like Peruvian olives in Peru, but the brands I find in the US are not great. Their texture is very soft. I usually use pitted kalamata olives.
  • aged cotija – Keep in mind that aged cotija has more flavor and it’s saltier than young cotija. Parmesan is a good substitute.
  • dry roasted peanuts – I keep “lightly salted” dry roasted peanuts in my pantry, and I always keep that in mind when I check for seasoning. If you’re using “salted” peanuts, you may not need to add salt.
  • dried oregano leaves
  • hard cooked eggs
  • queso fresco – Fresh mozzarella is similar to queso fresco, and makes a good substitute.

🔪 Instructions

Six rocoto peppers with the tops cut off, seeds and veins removed in a cast iron baking dish.
  • Prepare the peppers – Slice the top off of the peppers as shown in the photos. Reserve the tops. Use a spoon to scrape seeds and veins from the peppers. Par boil the peppers for 2-3 minutes, then rinse and drain.
Ground meat with onions, garlic, and spices are sauteed in a cast iron skillet.
  • Brown the meat – Brown the ground meat in a skillet over medium-high heat, using a meat chopper or spatula to break it up. Add the onion, garlic, ground cumin, and oregano leaves. Sauté until onion is transparent, and mixture is fragrant.
Aji panca paste is added to the meat mixture in a cast iron skillet.
  • Stir in the ají panca paste – Stir in the ají panca paste. Sauté until toasty and fragrant – 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
The hard-cooked egg, raisins, olives, and peanuts are added to the skillet.
  • Add the remaining filling ingredients – Add the chopped hard-cooked eggs, olives, re-hydrated raisins, ground peanuts, and grated or crumbled cotija.
Thoroughly combined meat mixture in the skillet prior to being added to the rocoto peppers.
  • Combine – Gently fold the eggs and other ingredients into the meat mixture. NOTE: With the olives, peanuts, aged cotija, and queso fresco, you probably don’t need additional salt. Taste the ground meat mixture, and adjust as needed. Preheat oven to 375℉ | 190℃.
Each rocoto relleno is topped with queso fresco before going into the oven.
  • Finish the rocotos rellenos – Spoon the filling into the prepared peppers. Top with sliced queso fresco.
The rocoto pepper tops are replace before the skillet goes into the oven.
  • Bake the rocoto peppers – Place stuffed peppers into the preheated oven. Bake until heated through, peppers are fork tender, and cheese is melted – about 20 minutes.
The finished rocotos rellenos in a cast iron baking dish with copper tongs and red potholders.
The completed Rocotos Rellenos!
  • To serve – Plate the stuffed rocoto peppers, and serve with desired sides. See suggested sides for ideas!
A close up of the stuffed rocotos - one opened with a fork - avocado, and salsa criolla.
Serving suggestion: Salsa criolla, sliced avocado, and roasted Peruvian potatoes…

❓FAQ

If I do find fresh manzano or rocoto peppers, how should they be stored?

If you manage to find the fresh peppers make sure to keep them in the refrigerator in order to stop the ripening process. They will last in the refrigerator for a few days.

Can I freeze rocoto peppers?

YES! Freeze them whole in a zip bag, then thaw in warm water. Treat them like fresh peppers. When I can’t get the fresh ones, I can buy the frozen rocotos from our local Latino foods market, and they’re quite good stuffed!

💭 Tips

To tame the heat of your rocotos, clean the inside of them thoroughly with a spoon, removing seeds and veins, which is where the heat is stronger. I like to use a melon scooper. I par boil the prepared peppers for 2-3 minutes, and then rinse and drain them. Additionally, you may want to choose one of these additional steps if heat level is a concern:

  1. Bring the peppers to a boil 2-3 times, changing the water every time.
  2. Soak the de-seeded and de-ribbed peppers in a solution of salt water or vinegar for at least 30 minutes. This can help to extract some of the capsaicin (the compound responsible for the heat) and reduce the intensity.
  3. Put a good amount of salt inside each rocoto and with the help of a spoon, scrub very well and then rinse them. 

We’re “empty nesters,” so I freeze half of the meat mixture, and use the filling later. I may freeze a few peppers or use the filling in a different kind of pepper.

Rocoto peppers are not for the palate that does not tolerate hot peppers; they’re definitely hot. If you are fortunate enough to find some rocoto/manzano peppers, this is a quintessential Peruvian way to enjoy them.

Signature in red and green with chiles and limes. Healthyish Latin cuisine.

A grey plate with 2 Peruvian stuffed rocoto peppers, salsa criolla, avocado, and roasted potatoes.

Rocotos Rellenos Recipe

Spicy Peruvian rocoto peppers are stuffed with a flavorful ground meat mixture, topped with queso fresco, and baked… a quintessential Peruvian main dish!
5 from 3 votes

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Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Main Dishes
Cuisine Peruvian
Servings 4 servings
Calories 391 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

  • 8 to 10 rocoto peppers - top sliced off, seeds and veins removed
  • 8 ounces ground meat - see Ingredient Notes in post
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ají panca paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano leaves
  • 2 ounces raisins - boiling water to cover
  • 2 ounces kalamata olives, chopped - or Peruvian black olives
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
  • 1.25 ounces cotija, crumbled - or parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, ground
  • 3 ounces queso fresco

Instructions

  • Par boil the prepared peppers for 2-3 minutes, then rinse and drain. Cover the raisins with boiling water.
  • Brown the ground meat in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, ground cumin, and oregano leaves. Sauté until onion is transparent, and mixture is fragrant.
  • Stir in the ají panca paste. Sauté until toasty and fragrant – 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  • Add the chopped hard-cooked eggs, olives, ground peanuts, raisins, and cotija.
  • Gently fold the eggs and other ingredients into the meat mixture. Preheat oven to 375℉ | 190℃.
  • Spoon the filling into the prepared peppers. Top with sliced queso fresco and the reserved pepper tops.
  • Place stuffed peppers into the preheated oven. Bake until heated through, peppers are fork tender, and cheese is melted – about 20 minutes.

Notes

The filling makes enough for 8 to 10 rocoto peppers. I only stuffed 6 of them. We each eat 2, and my husband gets 2 for lunch the following day (they reheat well). I save additional filling for another meal.
Macronutrients are an approximation only, and based on ground bison and small bell peppers. Rocoto peppers are not in the MyFitnessPal.com data base.

Nutrition

Serving: 2peppers | Calories: 391kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 20g

NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and/or star rating! Email us with any questions: tamara@beyondmeresustenance.com

🥗Suggested Side Dishes

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The Best Roasted Peruvian Potatoes

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Peruvian Salsa Criolla

2 glasses of chicha morada with ice garnished with pineapple and lime twist with a bowl of cancha.

Peruvian Chicha Morada

The Peruvian style rice feature image in an oval cast iron skillet with grey napkin.

Simple Peruvian Rice

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