About Peppers

This week’s lesson: Peppers!

These vibrant veggies are related to tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and tomatillo, and come in a multitude of varieties, but there are two basic types: sweet, and hot. Sweet peppers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Most start out green and then turn red, yellow, orange, or purple as they ripen. The flavor also changes with the color, becoming more mild and sweet as they mature. Hot peppers also start out green and then change color as they ripen. A substance called capsaicin is what makes a pepper taste hot.

How do you know when they are ready to harvest? 
Early in the season, it is best to harvest peppers before they ripen to encourage the plant to keep bearing fruit; a mature fruit can signal a plant to stop production too early. Peppers will continue to ripen if left out on a sunny windowsill at room temperature, so resist the urge to wait until the pepper looks picture-perfect to pick it. Always cut peppers from the plant with a knife or sharp scissors.

How do you store them?
Sweet peppers will keep for 1-2 weeks stored unwashed in a paper bag (or loose in the crisper drawer) in the refrigerator. Store hot peppers in a cool dry place for 1-2 weeks (you can leave them at room temperature on the counter-top, or in the fridge). To freeze them- simply wash and dry them, cut into chunks, and place in freezer bags or an airtight container in the freezer. Peppers are one of the few veggies that don’t require pre-cooking before freezing.
You can also dry hot peppers by leaving them in a bowl on the counter top in a well-ventilated, sunny room for 1-2 weeks (rotating them regularly). It is possible to dry them at a very low temperature in the oven. Here is a great link for more info on how to dry peppers.

How do you cook them?
Wash peppers in cold water just before you want to use them. CAUTION: When working with hot peppers, never touch your eyes or face after handling- you will burn your eyes and skin! Always wash your hands thoroughly after cutting hot peppers. Discard the seeds and ribs unless you like it VERY HOT, as these are the most intense parts.
An easy way to cut bell peppers is to cut a circle around the cap (about ½ inch down from the top) and pull it off (like a hat). The seed mass is attached to the stem, and will come out all in one piece, then you can push the stem through the cap to pop it out and discard- no pepper flesh wasted! Peppers are delicious eaten raw in salads, on a vegetable platter, or in sandwiches. They can also be roasted, sautéed, stir-fried, or steamed.
You can also char the skin on an open flame for a smoky flavor. The easiest way to do this is to place a pepper directly on your gas stovetop burner with the flame on high, and rotate occasionally with tongs until the skin is black and blistered all around (about 5 min). Immediately place pepper in a paper towel and wrap in plastic. Wait a few minutes, then unwrap the plastic and pull the charred skin off the pepper using the paper towel- if it doesn’t come off easily, re-wrap it and let it sit for a few minutes longer.

NUTRITION:

Peppers are a popular vegetable that can be added to a variety of foods. They are rich in vitamins A & C, with 1 cup providing 100% of your daily needs. Peppers are also a good source of fiber, folate, vitamin K and the minerals molybdenum and manganese. The calorie content is low, providing ~24 calories per one medium pepper. Peppers can be mild or fiery so start slowly by adding small amounts to your diet at first until you begin to acquire a taste.

Courtesy of: Brita Siljander, Swedish Covenant Hospital dietitian

RECIPE:

This recipe is from Lindsay’s mom, and is one of her all-time favorites. It is always a huge hit at parties, and is also a great way to utilize other garden veggies like onions, garlic, and cilantro! Try experimenting with different types of peppers if you want to make it hotter.

Texas Caviar Salsa
Makes about 4 cups of salsa

2- 14 oz. cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
½ cup finely chopped onion (any variety)
1 green bell pepper, diced
½ cup chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup cider vinegar
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss together.
Refrigerate overnight to develop flavor.
Drain before serving. This salsa is great served with lime tortilla chips!