A wonderful combination of tangy taste and crunchy texture, sweet 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. Despite their varied palette, all are the same plant, known scientifically as Capsicum annuum. They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. Sweet peppers are plump, bell-shaped vegetables featuring either three or four lobes. Green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and almost fruity. Paprika can be prepared from red bell peppers (as well as from chili peppers). Bell peppers are not 'hot'. The primary substance that controls "hotness" in peppers is called capsaicin, and it's found in very small amounts in bell peppers. Although peppers are available throughout the year, they are most abundant and tasty during the summer and early fall months.
The bell pepper is an excellent source of vitamin C at 117 milligrams per cup. (That's more than twice the amount of vitamin C found in a typical orange.) Bell pepper is also a good source of another antioxidant vitamin--vitamin E. In addition to these conventional antioxidant vitamins, bell pepper is also a good source of the antioxidant mineral manganese.
Bell peppers have been cultivated for more than 9000 years, with the earliest cultivation having taken place in South and Central America. While the name "pepper" was given to this food by European colonizers of North America who first came across it in the 1500-1600's and then transported it back to Europe, the original name for this food in Spanish was pimiento.
Because bell peppers can be grown in a variety of climates and are popular in cuisines throughout the world, they can frequently be found on small farms in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. In terms of commercial production, however, China has become by far the largest producer of bell peppers and produced 14 million metric tons in 2007. At about 2 million metric tons, Mexico is the second largest commercial producer, followed by the United States at approximately 1 million metric tons.
Before coring and/or cutting the pepper, wash it under cold running water.
Use a paring knife to cut around the stem and then gently remove it. Peppers can be cut into various shapes and sizes. To easily chop, dice or cut the peppers into strips, first cut the pepper in half lengthwise, clean out the core and seeds, and then, after placing the skin side down on the cutting surface, cut into the desired size and shape. Peppers can also be cut horizontally into rings or left whole for stuffed peppers. The pulpy white inner cavity of the bell pepper is rich in flavonoids and can be eaten, even though some people have a personal preference for removing this section.
Bell peppers can be eaten fresh, sliced or chopped added to salads or can be cooked or stuffed. If you have too many peppers, you can cut them in strips and freeze on a cookie sheet. When frozen, put them in plastic freezer bags. Peppers keep their consistency and flavor better than most other vegetables. You can thaw them and add to soups and stir fries, scrambled eggs and enchiladas.
Unwashed sweet peppers stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep for approximately 7-10 days.
Roasted Red Pepper Dip
This versatile dip of roasted red peppers, raisins, and capers can be spread onto grilled flatbread, used as a sandwich condiment, or spooned over grilled chicken.
- 6 large red bell peppers
- 1 cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped (6 ounces)
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed well and drained
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh oregano
- Coarse salt
- Red-wine vinegar
Roast peppers over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning occasionally, until charred all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Peel and seed peppers.
Pulse peppers in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Add raisins, oil, capers, and oregano. Pulse to combine. Season with salt and vinegar.
Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Stew
Maybe you have a few eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and basil waiting for this recipe? It comes from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors cookbook.
Yield: About 6 servings
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds waxy potatoes
- 2 large peppers
- vegetable oil
- 1 cup packed basil leaves
- 1 cup packed cilantro leaves
- 3 large garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon roasted ground cumin
- 2 large onions, peeled and cut into eighths
- 1 pound eggplant, cut into long strips
- 2-3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
- 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (1 can, rinsed)
- Preheat the broiler. Bring 6 cups water to boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Slice the potatoes lengthwise about 1/2 inch thick, boil them for 5 mintues, and drain. Halve the peppers lenthwise, press to flatten them, then brush with vegetable oil. Broil, cut side down, on a baking sheet until blistered but not charred. Stack them on top of one another and set aside to steam. When cool, remove the skins and cut the pieces in half. Set the oven temperature at 350 F.
- Coarsely chop the basil, cilantro, and garlic, then puree in a small food processor with the olive oil, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Toss all the vegetables with 1 teaspoon salt, some freshly ground pepper, and the herb mixture. Using your hands, rub the herb mixture into the vegetables, especially the eggplant, then add the chickpeas and toss once more. Transfer everything to an earthenware gratin dish. Rinse out the herb container with 1/2 cup water and pour it over all. Cover the gratin dish tightly with foil and bake until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the foil, brush the exposed vegetables with the juices, and bake for 20 minutes more. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Peppers with Sausage and Rice
- Bell peppers-any colors
- Italian sausage (or vegetarian equivalent)
- Cooked Rice
- Neutral oil
- Parmesan and fresh oregano.
Render Italian sausage in oil. Remove sausage; stir-fry cooked rice. Toss with chopped roasted peppers and more oil if necessary. Top with shaved Parmesan and fresh oregano, if you like. Great with garlic, onion, or fresh tomatoes too.
This versatile summer recipe is always a flavorful hit. Serve over rice, with pasta, as a topping for quiche or omelets, as a pizza sauce...the options are endless. The ingredients can be used in any combination or quantities.
- 2 onions, chopped
- olive oil
- 1 large eggplant, cubed
- 1 zucchini, sliced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 5 tomatoes, chopped (optional to peel and seed them)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
- fresh basil for garnish
Preheat oven to 35o. Saute the onions, eggplant, zucchini, green pepper, and tomatoes separately in a generous amount of olive oil and then combine with the garlic and thyme on a baking sheet. Bake uncovered for about an hour. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh basil.
Multi Pepper Salad with Fontina
adapted from From the Cook's Garden by Ellen Ogden
1.5 pounds Sweet peppers, roasted and cut into 1/4 inch strips
12 black olives, such as kalamata, pitted and coarsely chopped
6 ounces Fontina cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1.5 cups)
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped cutting celery OR tarragon OR parsley
1/4 cup best extra virgin olive oil
S & P to taste
Combine the peppers, olives, and cheese. Mix the cream, lemon juice, mustard, and herb in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season with the S & P. Pour over the peppers and mix. Serve immediately.
Tomato and Sweet Pepper Salad
adapted from The Vegetable Market Cookbook by Robert Budwig
3 sweet peppers
4 ripe tomatoes
1/4 preserved lemon (or 2 teaspoons grated zest with some of the lemon's juice)
2 cloves garlic peeled and crushed pinch sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 t black pepper
Grill or roast peppers, remove skins, cut into small cubes and set aside. Blanch tomatoes for 15-20 seconds in boiling water. Drain and remove skins and stems. Cut in half and remove seeds. Cut into small cubes. Rinse the preserved lemon under running water and remove the pulp. Cut the rind into fine dice. Arrange peppers, tomatoes and lemon in a dish. Mix remaining ingredients to make a dressing and pour over the salad. Mix well. Try adding fresh, in-season herbs like basil or parsley!