Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
Food & Nutrition
Welcome to autumn — a wonderful time of the year to prepare meals around the last of the garden and also prepare soup and chili. I know this has been a grand champion year for growing peppers and there are so many great items that you prepare with them. Since we eat first with our eyes, the colors of red, yellow, orange, purple and green sweet peppers are an added bonus for many recipes.
All peppers, whether sweet or hot, are members of the capsicum family and are native to the new world. For centuries, chilies (hot peppers) have been put into medicinal use, particularly as a topical healing agent. Even today, many commercial liniments contain oleoresin of capsicum. The plant that produces peppercorns, piper nigrum, is native to Asia and is not related. If you enjoy eating peppers, that is good as they are good for you. Peppers are a rich source of vitamin C, superior to even to citrus, and they contain as much vitamin A as carrots.
If you are looking for more ways to include fresh vegetables and fruits in your healthy eating plan, join the Elkhart County Extension Homemakers for its “Creative Holiday Ideas” program on the last Saturday of October. The club will be sharing light, healthy food ideas for this holiday season. The $5 charge at the door covers the cost of a recipe and ideas booklet as well as food samples. We’re also asking all who attend to bring a non-perishable food item. Now, more about peppers.
The most widely available sweet pepper is the bell pepper, named for its bell-like shape. Green bell peppers are the most common, but red, yellow, orange and purple are now available year-round. There are also the new colored mini sweet peppers that are great snacks and have so many food preparation possibilities.
Most green peppers, if left on the plant, will turn red, but most of the red ones in the grocery store are a red variety. The colored peppers are sweeter than the green and the flavor is milder. All bell peppers have a mild flavor and a crisp, crunchy texture.
Roasting peppers is time consuming, but the flavor makes it so worth the time invested. The directions for roasting and peeling sweet and hot peppers are the same. When handling hot peppers, use caution to prevent irritation of skin or eyes. Wear gloves and wash hands well afterwards.
Hold peppers over open gas flame or charcoal fire, or place under a boiler. Turn often until blackened on all sides. Transfer peppers into a paper or plastic bag; close and set aside until cool (15 to 20 minutes).
Peel peppers; halve; remove stem and seeds. Lay halves flat and use dull side of a small knife to scrape away any black bits of skin and stray seeds. Slice into 1/4-inch strips.
A tasty way to eat roasted red peppers is to roast two red bell peppers, then put sliced peppers in a medium bowl. Add one clove of finely minced garlic, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano. Salt to taste. Toss to blend and let marinate at room temperature for one hour before using.
For information on how to preserve peppers, Purdue University offers an excellent publication, “Let’s Preserve Peppers” CFS-593-W. You can download a free copy on the Web at www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/CFS/CFS-593-W.pdf.
Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is county extension director and an extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-0554.