Jalapeños are typically thought of as a seasoning, something to chop up or slice to make something else taste spicy. We mince them for salsa, slice them for pho, pickle them for tacos. Rarely is the jalapeño treated as an end in itself, unless you are the kind of person who downs whole, raw hot chilies for kicks.
Yet jalapeños, being among the mildest and largest of the piquant capsicums, have quite a bit of potential as a stuffed hors d’oeuvre. They’re just the right size for a party snack—unlike cavernous bell peppers and poblanos—yet they have more room inside of them than other stuffable finger foods, like mushroom caps. As long as you fill jalapeños with something palate-soothing, you can eat a few of them without breaking a sweat, fearing your tongue is going to burn off, or suffering any of the other unpleasant physiological effects of capsaicin, the compound that makes chilies spicy.
The most obvious palate-soother is cheese. As my colleague Nadia Arumugam has explained in Slate, dairy contains the protein casein, which “pushes capsaicin away from pain receptors and binds to them in its place, bringing almost immediate relief.” The punningly named jalapeño poppers (poppers puns on peppers) are typically filled with a cream-cheese based filling, which makes sense: Cream cheese is both perfectly smooth and impeccably mild, which makes it a great foil for the jalapeño’s sharpness. Add a melting cheese, like cheddar or gouda, and some cilantro, and you have the perfect filling to offset the slightly painful effects of biting into a jalapeño.