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A Vegetarian Chile Relleno in Loving Memory of Bill Butts

A Vegetarian Chile Relleno in Loving Memory of Bill Butts October 11, 2013

Many cultures have ways of honoring and remembering the dead which involve food as a way of staying connected. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, remembering our loved ones regularly with meditation and perhaps offerings of food or gifts to charities are wonderful ways to reflect on the loving bond you shared with them.

Marlene and Bill-1
Marlene and Bill Butts


William James Butts Jr.  became my sister Marlene’s husband in May of 1952 and inherited me as his little brother-in-law. I was 6 years old and just preparing to begin my formal schooling. Marlene had just graduated from high school the evening before. Twenty-four hours later they were wed, and Bill whisked the bride of his youth off to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was a student at Centenary College.

In January of 1954 first child Melinda arrived, followed by Byron, Marilyn, and Karen in the following years. They felt more like siblings to me than nieces and nephew.

I looked up to both of them adoringly. Because Marlene was 12 years my senior, I was left in her care often, and many times Bill was part of the picture. I loved being involved in their romance although I later learned that I was the only one appreciative of our little L’amitié de trois when I was toted along on dates.

Bill was gifted with a brilliant mind, a mind that would fit right in at Harvard or Oxford. His humanity was down home, caring, witty, and far-reaching. He was also fiercely competitive and hated to lose, which made him ever so human.

In his youth he loved to fish, and I was often his fishing buddy. One of my favorite places was Lake Bistineau, about 30 minutes southeast of Shreveport. We fished among the tall cypress trees which shaded much of the lake. Picture a Walt Kelly illustration of Pogo and Churchy LaFemme paddling lazily through Okefenokee Swamp.

Bill became a vegetarian for the last 23 years of his life. He rarely elaborated on his decision, and I always assumed it was for health reasons. Not until I read the eulogy delivered at his funeral did I learn that he had chosen to not eat any of God’s creatures. Marlene followed suit.

This was a big change for a man who was gifted in the barbecue sense. Once, he was given a frozen beaver carcass from one of his parishioners in Burlington Junction, Missouri, who occasionally thinned out the beaver population to keep his water source flowing.

The beaver wouldn’t fit in the oven so Bill barbecued it in sub-freezing weather for that year’s Christmas feast. It didn’t taste like chicken but it had a similar stringy texture. He wrote to us later that the leftovers were turned into a French Trapper Pasta Sauce that lasted for days.

Bill loved all chile peppers and the hotter the better. You could tell when his endorphins kicked in by the beads of perspiration popping up on his bare scalp and forehead, like his own personal rain forest.  I once gave him a bottle of fine Lustau Sherry in which I had allowed a few fresh Serrano peppers to marinate for a few weeks. You would’ve thought I had given him the keys to chile heaven. Daughter Marilyn fell in love with it and wanted her own bottle, which I was happy to provide. That was some smokin’ sippin’.

I believe a fine plate of vegetarian chile rellenos sitting next to some Mexican rice will be a fitting tribute to Bill.

He was always most appreciative when someone prepared a labor-intensive meal for him, but in the kitchen he was a no-nonsense, frugal cook who always put something wonderful on the table lickety-split.

Vegetarian Chile Rellenos with Mexican Style Rice

Vegetarian Chile Relleno-2376
Bill’s Vegetarian Chile Relleno with White Chile Cheese Sauce and Mexican Rice


Ingredients for Stuffing – Adapted from a recipe on Bocaburger.com

  1. 2 tbsp. olive oil
  2. 1 onion, chopped
  3. 2 clove garlic, minced
  4. 12 ounces frozen vegetarian ground meat substitute such as BOCA Veggie Ground Crumbles
  5. 3 cups frozen corn
  6. 2 tomatoes, seeded, chopped
  7. 1 bay leaf
  8. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  9. ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  10. 1 cup Monterrey Jack or mild cheddar cheese, divided ¾ and ¼
  11. 4 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded*
  12. ½ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

* There are several methods for roasting fresh chiles. Most often I place them on the burners of my gas cooktop and turn frequently using tongs. I go after the nooks and crannies using a blow torch like the one used for defrosting frozen pipes. Place the roasted peppers in a deep bowl with some very hot water, cover and allow them to steam for about 20 minus Click here for an Internet tutorial.


  • Sauté onion in hot oil in large skillet on medium-high heat for 5 min.
  • Add the garlic and continue sautéing for another minute.
  • Stir in next 6 ingredients; cook 10 min., stirring occasionally.
  • Discard the bay leaf.
  • Stir ¾-cup cheese into tomato mixture; spoon into chiles.
  • Place chiles, filled-sides up, in single layer in shallow baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  • Bake 20-30 minutes at 350º F or until chiles are heated through and cheese is melted.
  • Ladle some Mexican cheese sauce over and garnish with cilantro.

White Chile Cheese Sauce – Adapted from www.allrecipes.com


  1. ¼ milk or more as needed for thinning
  2. 1 tablespoon butter
  3. ½ pound white American Cheese (I used Boar’s Head from the deli)
  4. 1 can Ro-Tel Tomatoes with Chiles
  5. 1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles
  6. 1 teaspoon ground cumin or more to taste
  7. 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  8. 1 teaspoon onion powder
  9. Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Place milk, butter, and cheese in a sauce pan over low heat and cook until cheese is melted. Stir often.
  • Mix in remaining ingredients and stir until homogenous.
  • Add more milk if it is too thick.
  • Keep warm or serve immediately.

Mexican Rice – recipe from Homesick Texan

Bon appétit,
— Charles

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Victor Panichkul is a journalist and writer by training; a cook, wine lover and photographer by passion; and a lover of the outdoors since moving to Oregon more than 10 years ago. He is a native of Bangkok, Thailand.