Peppers, both the hot and sweet varieties, are often the accent in a dish, used sparingly to add color, texture, and flavor. In season, in the late summer and into the fall, they are sweet and in the case of hot peppers, sweet and spicy.
Peppers in the grocery store can be expensive. Out of season, they can be grown in hothouses, which add an astronomical layer of expense. But they produce a beautiful product, that makes straggly summer peppers look crooked and gnarly, hiding their sweet flesh. The crinkly landscape makes it hard to cut into perfect squares, and forget about trying to make stuffed bell peppers look like the picture in the Instagram post.
When peppers start growing, they are all green. As they ripen, the peppers show their colors. They can be yellow, orange, red, and even purple and brown.
The green bell peppers at the markets would eventually change color if the farmer left them on the plant longer. The time involved in ripening is why red peppers are more expensive than green. Red peppers are a longer-term investment for the farmer. And, there are losses associated with having them out exposed to the elements.
Bringing them Home
Select peppers that are firm and dry. Store them unwashed, loosely wrapped in plastic bags in the refrigerator. They will keep for about one week.
Wear gloves when you cut hot peppers to prevent the capsaicin from getting on your hands. If you don’t use gloves, don’t touch your eyes or other sensitive mucus membranes for the day.
Cut off the stems and remove the seeds. The seeds are hard to digest.
For hot peppers, the veins inside, that run down the pepper’s length, contain much of the capsaicin that makes them hot. Depending on how spicy you want your final dish, you can remove them if desired.
The Best Pepper Recipes
Red bell peppers make a sweet snack to eat raw dipped into ranch dressing. You can mix in green ones too. The green peppers provide a contrast of color, but they highlight how sweet the red peppers are when you taste them side by side.
Roasted red bell peppers are a time-consuming treat. Cook whole peppers over a fire, turning every few minutes until gently charred on all sides. You can do this on a gas stovetop or barbecue. Let the peppers rest until they are cool enough to handle and then peel off the charred skin and remove the stem and seeds. Resist the urge to rinse them under water, if it helps imagine the flavor washing away down the drain. They are better with a little bit of charred skin attached.
When you have a lot of sweet peppers, make a Spanish Piperade. Slow cooking the peppers concentrates the natural sugar.
Serve the Piperade with eggs, roast chicken, over rice, or beans.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 5–6 small sweet peppers, seeded and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Over medium heat, sauté the onion, peppers, garlic, salt, paprika, black pepper, and sugar, occasionally stirring, for 10–15 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through. Add the tomatoes to the cooked vegetables and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened.
When you have lots of hot peppers, make hot sauce.
Hot sauce is easy to make. This is probably the reason there are so many bottles on the market shelves.
I use this recipe from Hank Shaw over and over again, I only change out the chiles, depending on what I have available.
Hot Sauce (recipe adapted from HunterAnglerGardenerCook)
The xanthan gum keeps the solids from settling out of the liquids. If you need to buy it, look for it in the bulk section of the grocery store instead of purchasing a package. Even if you use it for other recipes (it is often included in gluten-free baking), it will take years to use up 8 ounces.
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2/3 cup fresh red Thai, red Fresno or red jalapeno chiles
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup of water
1 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons ground paprika
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water (optional)
Put the garlic, chiles, salt, ½ cup of water, vinegar, and paprika in the blender and puree thoroughly. Add the xanthan gum mixed with the water into the blender, and puree for another 30 seconds. Pour into a bowl and let the mixture settle for 1 hour to allow the trapped air to escape. Bottle and store in the fridge for up to 9 months.
The Easiest Way to Store Peppers
Peppers are the ideal vegetable to dehydrate or ferment.
In a dry climate, you can leave peppers outside protected from insects with screens until completely dehydrated. To do this more quickly or if it is humid, use a dehydrator. Make sure they are done before storing them in sealed containers.
Fermenting peppers is the starting point for making hot sauce in the style of the legendary Tabasco sauce.
Cut and freeze peppers to use when making chili in the winter. Trim away the core and stem and then chop to the size desired for your future recipe. Store the cut peppers in vacuum-sealed bags in the freezer, ready to go into the pot.
You can also pickle peppers with vinegar, canning jars for long term storage.
Enjoy them at their best
Buy peppers in the late summer and fall when they are the sweetest. Perfect peppers are the anomaly, not the rule. Try your hand at making a hot sauce to save the peppers and add spice to your winter meals.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her blog at The Wooden Cutting Board on Twitter @juliehouse and Facebook @thewoodencuttingboard