Peppers

Peppers are native to America and didn't become known in Europe or Asia until the 16th century. Related to the tomato, they come in all shapes and sizes and range in flavor from very sweet and mild to so hot they can actually burn the skin. None of them is related to black pepper, which is actually the berry of an asian shrub, although red cayenne pepper, paprika, and prepared chile powder are all derived from native American peppers.

Sweet Peppers

Sweet Peppers include the commonly available bell pepper and thin-walled frying peppers.

A wonderful combination of tangy taste and crunchy texture, Bell Peppers are the Christmas ornaments of the vegetable world with their beautifully shaped glossy exterior that comes in a wide array of vivid colors ranging from green, red, yellow, orange, purple, brown to black. Although peppers are available throughout the year, they are most abundant and tasty during the months of August and September.

The green bell pepper is a shiny, thick-walled sweet pepper shaped something like a bell. It has a sweet, refreshing flavor and a firm, crunchy flesh. California, Florida, and Texas are the biggest producers in the United States, but bell peppers are grown in almost every state.

Green bell peppers are simply immature versions of sweet red peppers. The red version is sweeter and more tender, and it spoils faster than the green pepper. Bell peppers that are green with red patches, usually called "suntans," have reached an intermediate stage. These are very good and sweet.

Italian Sweet Relleno is a very sweet, earlier maturing relleno variety whose fruits measure 6 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide. These versatile peppers are delicious stuffed, roasted or fried.

Yellow, orange, white, and even deep purple varieties of sweet peppers tend to be even sweeter and crisper than their green or red brothers.

Italian Frying Peppers, Italianelles, or cubanels, these long, pale green peppers are sweet and tender and have a thin skin. They are usually either sautèed in olive oil stuffed and baked with the stems and seeds intact, as the seeds give the peppers their characteristic flavor and sweet taste.

Chile Peppers

Chile peppers come in an enormous range of sizes, shapes, and degrees of heat - from very mild green chiles to jalapeños to fiery Scotch Bonnets (or habañeros). These and other varieties too numerous to name are used in Mexican and southwestern cooking, as well as in Indian, Chinese, Thai, and other Asian dishes.

Generally, the tinier the chile, the hotter the taste, although there are no hard-and-fast rules. Even the same variety can be mild to hot, depending on local growing conditions. Jalapeños are the ones most often found fresh. Small and plump, with a pointed end, jalapeños range from an inch and a half to three inches long and from dark green to bright red. They are moderately hot to very hot.

The smaller serranos, which are also dark green to red and shaped like little bullets, tend to be a bit hotter. They are usually added to sauces and cooked dishes, roasted, or pickled. Banana peppers, which are relatively large and yellow and range from mild to moderately hot, and fresh mild green chiles, which are large and pale green, are available in many markets. If you like the distinctive flavor of jalapeños but can't take the heat, try the mild green chiles, which have a similar flavor without the fire. Most other varieties - including the tiny hot peppers used in Asian cuisines - are either sold dry or are limited to specialty stores and ethnic neighborhoods. Handle all of them with care.

Storing and Cooking

Peppers will keep for up a week if kept in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, but they will lose their crispness and get limp in fairly short order. Left at room temperature, they'll lose their crunch in a matter of hours. Don't wash until you're ready to use them.

Bell peppers should be washed, stemmed, and seeded. They can be sliced raw into salads, added to crudité platters, or used to make salsa. They are good stuffed and baked or added to meat loaf.

The stems and seeds should be left in frying peppers during cooking because they add a great deal to the flavor. To fry, simply sauté in a little olive oil until very tender, then remove the stems after they're done. A small seedpod will come away with the stem. Frying peppers are excellent stuffed with ricotta cheese and baked, but be careful handling them, as the walls are thin and will break or tear easily. Frying peppers are also a key ingredient in the classic Italian dish of sausage and peppers. A lot of people use bell peppers instead because frying peppers cook down and it takes more of them to get the same quantity cooked.

Handle hot chile peppers with extreme care, and wash your hands thoroughly after preparing them. Not only will the residue burn your lips and really burn your eyes if you touch them after handling peppers, but it will also transfer to other fruits and vegetables.

Serving Ideas for Bell and Sweet Peppers:

  • Roasted peppers: Roast the peppers in a 500 °F (260 °C) oven until the skin turns black and begins to blister. Remove and cover with plastic wrap or place in a paper bag. The steam will help soften the skin so that when the roasted peppers are cool it will slide off easily. To add a little more flavor, slice the roasted and peeled peppers and marinate them in a small amount of olive oil and minced garlic for about 15 minutes.
  • Add finely chopped bell peppers to tuna or chicken salad.
  • Steam cored peppers for five minutes, stuff them with your favorite rice salad or grain pilaf, and bake in a 350©F oven until they are hot.
  • Healthy sauté chopped peppers, celery and onions, then combine with tofu, chicken or seafood to make a simple Louisiana Creole dish.
  • Purée roasted and peeled peppers with healthy sautéed onions and zucchini to make a deliciously refreshing soup that can be served hot or cold.
  • Bell peppers are one of the best vegetables to serve in a crudité platter since not only do they add a brilliant splash of color, but their texture is also the perfect crunchy complement for dips.
Pepper Recipes:

Basil, Fennel and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Pesto

Did you know?

Only about 10% of the fossil fuel energy used in the world's food system is used in production; the other 90% goes into packaging, transportation, and marketing.

Quotes

"We can no longer import our lives in the form of food, fuel and fundamentalism. Life is homegrown, always has been. So is culture. And so too are the solutions to global problems."

~Paul Hawken, Bioneers Conference 2006

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      • Here's a sample box from October!
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      • Celeriac
      • Onions
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      • Beets
      • Cabbage
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