Pick a pepper — almost any pepper — and you can stuff it. Stuff if with cheese, meat or other veggies. Make it an appetizer, a salad or a main course. And this is the perfect time of year to do it.
Did you know that peppers grew only in Latin America until the Spanish and Portuguese explorers to the New World took them back to Europe, along with corn, tomatoes and beans? Those explorers took peppers on their travels as well, introducing peppers around the world. Today, peppers are important in many cuisines, from Mexico and South American where they originated to Thailand, India, Africa, Hungary and beyond.
There are many types of peppers, from mild sweet bell peppers to fiery ghost peppers. The heat of a pepper is measured using Scoville Heat Units. The scale ranges from 0 (bell peppers) all the way to 3,000,000 (Pepper X, the spiciest chile in the world). Most dried chiles fall somewhere in the middle, but can still be pretty hot.
The Scoville scale is a good base for knowing how hot your chiles are, but know that the heat can vary according to climate and vegetation. The relatively mild poblano check in at about 1,500 SHU, while the super-hot habanero packs a whopping 250,000 SHUs (or more).
If you want the flavor without the mouth-scorching fire, remove the seeds and interior ribs from a chile before cooking it. It’s also a good idea to have dairy products on hand, such as milk or yogurt. Dairy products contain casein, which helps neutralize capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat. And remember: Always protect your skin by wearing gloves and never touch your eyes when handling hot peppers.
Peppers are low in calories and loaded with good nutrition. All varieties of peppers are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid and fiber. Plus, a little diced jalapeño or serrano is a great way to give a kick to a ho-hum recipe.
Peppers can be versatile members of your menu planning. You can use them raw in salads or for dippers, or cook them in soups, stews and main courses. At The Purple Onion, we carry several varieties and encourage our customers to give them a try in different recipes. Some of the most fun are stuffed peppers and we offer a few ideas here.
Jalapeño poppers are a popular menu item at restaurants but because they are fried, many folks shy away from making the at home. We suggest this healthier baked version of the popper. It’s crispy and tangy — and with half the calories!
You can also feature stuffed peppers as part of a meze or antipasto menu. Using small bell peppers, we suggest this stuffed pepper with a meatless bulgur stuffing. It could also be made with an orzo and feta stuffing.
For dinner, take your pick of a Mexican-inspired stuffed poblano pepper or a traditional, homestyle stuffed bell pepper. The stuffed bell pepper is one of the featured recipes in “Still Cooking at One-Hundred” by Lillian Cooper. The cookbook is a reprint of “Mrs. Cooper’s ENCORE” and was presented by the Ladies Auxiliary of the B’nai Jacob Synagogue.How to pick the perfect pepper
Here are some of the most popular pepper types and how to cook with them:
Also known as green pepper, red pepper and sweet bell pepper. Relatively large in size, the bell-shaped pepper in its immature state is green with a slightly bitter flavor. As it matures, it turns bright red and becomes sweeter. You can also find yellow, orange, white, pink and even purple varieties. With their high water content, bell peppers will add moisture to any dish. They’re also great for adding color.
Poblano or ancho pepper
Somewhat large and heart-shaped, the poblano is common in Mexican dishes such as chiles rellenos. Poblanos are only mildly spicy. At maturity, the poblano turns dark red-brown and can be dried, at which point it’s referred to as an ancho or mulato. Anchos have a rich, raisin-like sweetness. The high yield of flesh to skin makes anchos great for sauces.
Also known as California green chile, chile verde, New Mexican chile. This long pepper is relatively mild and versatile. When mature, the Anaheim turns deep red and is referred to a chile Colorado or California red chile. Anaheims are popular in salsas and dishes from the American Southwest.
Just a couple of inches long, with a tapered end, this small pepper packs quite a bit of heat. The smaller the pepper, the hotter it is. When ripe, serranos are red or yellowish orange — they can be cooked in both their ripe and unripe states. Serranos are common in Mexican and Thai cooking.
Small and bulbous, this chile, in the same family as the Scotch bonnet, is one of the hottest on the Scoville scale. If you can get past the heat, habaneros also have a fruity flavor. They’re popular on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and in the Caribbean, where they’re used to make hot sauces.
Slender and tapered, this chile is probably most familiar in its dried, ground form — the powder known as cayenne pepper. Ground cayenne pepper is a main ingredient in the chili powder that flavors Tex-Mex dishes such as chili con carne. It’s one of the spiciest types of peppers.
Mirasol or guajillo chile
Bright red and pointed upward, these peppers grow toward the sun, which is why they were given the name mirasol (which means “looking at the sun” in Spanish). In their dried form, they are called guajillo. Guajillo are fruity, tangy and mildly acidic, and are a common ingredient in traditional al pastor. They are also one of the main chiles used in mole sauce.
Jalapeño or chipotle pepper
This Mexican pepper is typically plucked from the vine while still green. If allowed to ripen more, they will turn red and take on a slightly fruity flavored. Jalapeños are a tasty ingredient commonly used to in salsa and sauces. When dried, a jalapeño is called a chipotle. Smoke-dried chipotles come in two varieties: meco (mellow) and moritas (spicier). Smoky, woodsy, and spicy, chipotles are the perfect ingredient for salsas, sauces, escabeche, and adobo.
Also known as pimiento and pimento, this pepper is sweet on the outside and the inside. Bright red and shaped like a heart, it barely registers on the Scoville scale, but makes up for its lack of spice with a sweet, succulent flavor. You’ll commonly find cherry peppers chopped and stuffed into green olives, in pimento loaves and pimento cheese.
Also known as yellow wax pepper and banana chile, this mild yet tangy pepper adds a kick to pizza or sandwiches. This pepper usually takes on a bright yellow hue as it ripens, but occasionally grows to be red, orange or green instead.
A mild, sweet pepper from northern Spain, it features a smoky, tart flavor that’s ideal for sandwiches and sauces, and as a compliment to meat and cheese. You’ll often find them jarred in your grocer’s gourmet section. As they mature, they grow from green to red. They measure three to four inches long and are slightly curved at the end, resembling a little beak.
Harvested while still green, these thin-walled peppers can be pan-seared and eaten on their own. They can also be added to pizza or to flavor dishes. The riper the shishito, the spicier the pepper.
This spicy pepper is called a scotch bonnet because it resembles caps men wear in Scotland. It’s the hottest pepper in the Caribbean and used to flavor all sorts of dishes, including jerk chicken. Though the pepper is most often spicy, you will occasionally find a sweet variety, called cachucha.
Sometimes called Bhut Naga Jolokia (bhut means ghost, naga means snake, and jolokia is chile), this chile has a vicious bite! The ghost pepper hails from Northeastern India and is cultivated in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. So how hot is this hair raiser? It’s 100 times hotter than a jalapeño. One of the hottest (edible) peppers in the world, ghost peppers are used — sparingly — in chutney and curry.