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I’m really excited to be doing my very first ingredient breakdown. It’s been a lot of fun testing and tasting recipes focused on bell peppers. Not only can they improve upon a tasty dish, they can also be the star of it. Since it’s peak bell pepper season, and I hope you’ll be encourage to pick up a pepper or two the next time you head to the market, wherever you are.
BELL PEPPERS – The Why
This first ingredient breakdown was inspired by my recent trip to the CA State Fair (check out my post) and a cooking demonstration that we watched while there. As the chef spoke about the vegetable dish he was preparing, he picked up a beautiful red bell pepper and dropped a fact that shocked me. Green bell peppers are simply unripe red bell peppers, and that’s why they’re cheaper and less sweet than the red, orange, and yellow varieties. WHAT?!
I felt like this was something I should have known, like everyone but me knew and I was late to the bell pepper party. Nope, my husband shot me a look of shock and everyone I’ve asked since gave me a similar reaction of ‘really, I never knew!’. I had to look into this further.
As it turns out, that is absolutely true, and not just of bell peppers. That’s right, all those green jalapenos we’ve consumed our whole lives – those are the less ripe version of the spicier, slightly sweeter red jalapeno. This doesn’t mean however, that they aren’t good for you, or good to eat.
Peppers and chilies are both a part of the capsicum family, and come in a seriously huge variety ranging in size, flavor, and spice. (I could easily delve into peppers and chilies alike, but that will be for another day.) Bell peppers are a sweet pepper, distinguished from their other sweet cousins and the spicier chilies by the typical bell shape that you are all familiar with. They’re also botanically classified as a fruit – not a vegetable.
But, not all sweet peppers, not all bell peppers in fact, come in that shape. A good example is the La Rogue Royale pepper, the longer, slimmer version of a red bell pepper. This pepper is delicious, and in fact I buy them often for their sweet, crisp flavor raw, and the amazing sweetness they take on when roasted or sauteed. Those were my peppers of choice for the Romesco sauce I will soon be sharing with you all. These peppers start red and stay red.
There are numerous colors to choose from when it comes to bell peppers – green, yellow, orange, white, purple, and of course red. Each color has its own flavor, some more distinct and apparent than others. While red is the sweetest, both the green and the purple peppers have a more bitter, crisp pepper flavor. Orange and yellow are sweet, a close second to the red. White peppers are also sweet and crisp, with a milder flavor.
Beyond the flavor, there are some added health benefits to eating the sweet bell peppers – tons of vitamins. They’re high in vitamin C, like really high, and full of other vitamins and nutrients like E, B6, K1, potassium, folate, iron, and in red bell peppers Vitamin A. Allowing the fruit to ripen increases the nutrient levels when consumed, so in addition to a sweeter flavor, picking red over green bell peppers is going to increase the health benefits you receive.
How to Pick Them
Bell peppers are available year around nowadays, green bells especially, but the peak season for the best flavor is July through September. When choosing a bell pepper it is useful to consider what your intentions are. Are you looking to cook them down into a sweet summer soup? Roast them for a sauce or a smoky sandwich layer? Maybe you’re looking to add them raw to a salad. There are times and places for the bitter, grassy bite of a green pepper, perfect for stuffing, pickling, or pairing with sweet glazed chicken. Purple peppers are similar in flavor, but lose their punch of color if cooked too long, they’re great raw with a berry salad or in a slaw, or cooked lightly. However, for sauces, soups, and stir fry, the sweeter varieties of pepper are what I would recommend .
When picking your pepper, be sure to look for a glossy, smooth exterior and a green stem. Avoid the wrinkles or brown spots. They should be firm to the touch, with no damp or soft areas. Store them in the bottom of your fridge and they’ll keep for a few days.
Bell Peppers – 6 Methods of Preparation & Cookery
This is one of my favorite ways to eat bell peppers. They’re an excellent addition to salads, spring rolls, coleslaw or just to snack on plain or with a fresh dip. When I prep them for raw use, my usual method is to hold the pepper upright, stem up, and slice from top to bottom on each side, making 4 cuts. This will avoid most of the seeds and result in 4 flat slices of pepper, then just dice or julienne (cut into thin strips) to suit your needs.
Mmm, roasted pepper. This is a new addition to my repertoire, and I have fallen in love with the sweet soft results of the roasted bell pepper. I advise roasting the sweeter varieties and doing so whole. This allows the flavorful juices to stay on the inside of the pepper, the liquid is great to add when pureeing the roasted peppers.
You could purchase pre-roasted peppers, but I find them better fresh, and I hate spending money on something I can easily do myself. My preferred method is the one that saves me time: Pop them on a broiler safe pan, coat your hands in olive oil and give them a quick rub down. Put them under a broiler on high, on the middle rack, laying on their sides. Every 5 minutes rotate the peppers so every side blackens. When they’re soft and ready to collapse inward, take them from the oven and place them into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap tightly and let them steam for 5 to 10 minutes, or until skins slip off easily.
I find it easiest to remove the skins by gently pulling them away from the flesh with a paper towel. Then, gently cut away the stem and open them up. If you’re lucky the core and seeds will pull away with the stem, if not, it is extremely easy to gently scrape those away with a knife. Once cleaned, leave whole, chop or slice thinly, depending on your purpose. You can store these in your fridge in an airtight container, soaked in olive oil.
Roasted bell peppers can be used in a myriad of ways. My Romesco recipe uses fresh roasted, pureed peppers, and you could add them to several other sauces whether for pastas, like my Mom’s Spaghetti Recipe, marinades, aiolis, or veggie dips. You can also slice a roasted pepper and add it to a chicken breast sandwich, or chop them finely to add atop homemade hummus. (This is a super yummy hummus recipe from Tori Avey) The flavor that the roasting process imparts changes the pepper, and I highly recommend you try switching out sauteed or even raw peppers for the roasted variety to see the difference it can make in your dish. The uses are as endless as your creativity.
This is likely one of the most common ways to utilize bell peppers. With a simple dice and you can toss them into many different dishes to add some color and freshness to the dish. I prep these the same way for a saute as I do for raw consumption.
Sauteing them as a simple side dish is a great idea. Some of my favorite pairings are zucchini, squash, eggplant, corn, and potatoes. Keep in mind how long whatever you decide to pair them with takes to cook, and add them accordingly. Bell peppers are also fantastic in omelettes and scrambles, stir fry, curry, or a hearty breakfast hash. Again, the opportunities are endless, next time you have some peppers, try them in some sautes, and discover what you like!
There is something about that smoky, grilled flavor that makes our mouths salivate, and that doesn’t just mean meat. Grill them whole or slice them open and grill the pepper ‘steaks’ to get those beautiful grill marks. (Pureeing and adding them to a sauce after grilling would be killer!) A sprinkle of good salt and they’re delicious! Or you can toss them into a foil packet with some other mixed veg. I personally like them on kabobs. I love the word kabob and because I love the still crispy bite of sweet, smoky pepper to accent the protein.
Oh bell peppers, what haven’t we stuffed them with? This is definitely a popular way of serving bell peppers, and a way to make them a star of the plate. Here again, the possibilities for what they’re stuffed with, and how they’re cooked is extremely varied. I personally have served them stuffed with rice, with ground beef, and most recently with jalapeno (green ones ;D) mac and cheese (yea, it was tasty). I’ve also seen lentils, quinoa, spinach, other ground meats, chicken, bacon, corn, mushrooms, and spaghetti (!) stuffed into these perfect vessels, in various combinations. You can make a cheeseburger stuffed pepper, or meatloaf, taco, Italian, Latin, healthy, heavy, light….I could go on and on.
As far as method goes, you have a few options. One, you can go the traditional route, carefully take the ‘lid’ off the pepper and dump out all the seeds like I did above. Then stuff whatever mix you choose, (if its meat or a grain, it does need to be cooked first, though I recommend a quick cook even on the veggies) and choose your cooking method. You can roast them in the oven, topped with cheese or sauce, or you can immerse them in a sauce on the stove-top and let them simmer and stew until soft, but not so soft that they fall apart.
A second option is cutting each bell pepper in half to make pepper boats. Then add your mixture and roast them in the oven until tender.
Finally, but not least flavorful, is a stewed preparation. A little less common perhaps, but worth your time. Stewing simply means to cooking slowly in liquid in an enclosed vessel, usually a pot or pan with a lid. This produces a soft, flavorful stew that’s amazing atop chicken, pork, on a sausage sandwich, or as an appetizer with crispy bread. They’re similar in texture, so try replacing roasted peppers with stewed for pastas or sauces. I recently stewed some tomatoes and bell peppers on the stove top in some garlic white wine vinegar and olive oil then added it to hollowed out zucchini for roasting. It was amazing and my entire family gobbled them up.
If you’re looking for a starter recipe for a traditional stewed bell pepper dish, check out this recipe for Peperonata by As Easy as Apple Pie
Go On, Go Get Some
I hope I’ve inspired you to explore the world of bell pepper dishes, while they’re still in peak season. Do you have your own favorite bell pepper recipe? Or want me to share one of the ones mentioned above? Let me know if the comments!
As I needed to research beyond my kitchen for this one, I thought it worth mentioning where all this lovely info came from. Please check out the links to learn more, or purchase the books I keep handy:
The following are affiliate links
The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices, & Other Flavourings by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz
The Vegetable Encyclopedia & Cookbook by Christine Ingram
Kitchen Harvest by Susan Berry