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Whether it is a beautiful ‘Big Red’ bell or a light-green ‘Giant Aconcagua,’ garden-fresh peppers of all types are featured prominently in our kitchen garden and warm-season meals. This year, we’re growing ‘Red Beauty’ and ‘Sweet Chocolate’ bell peppers, along with ‘Lipstick’ and ‘Antohi Romanian’ sweet peppers in containers. Three ‘Basque’ pepper plants are growing in a raised bed with tomatoes and basil, too.
These sun-loving plants – which are actually fruit botanically, although we call them vegetables – thrive in rich, well-amended soil. I often start my peppers from transplants, because my local independent garden center offers so many wonderful heirlooms and hybrids. These transplants go in my garden a couple weeks after the last average frost date. If you want to grow peppers from seeds, start plants indoors about 8 weeks before your last frost.
Peppers belong to the Solanaceae plant family. We practice crop rotation, so we don’t plant them where peppers or other family members, like tomatoes, potatoes or eggplants, have grown in the last three years. That’s another reason why we’re growing our plants in containers this year.Along with great flavors – both hot and sweet – peppers are rich in vitamins A and C. Peppers also contain salicylates, an active ingredient found in aspirin. Recent studies suggest salicylic acid may reduce strokes, heart attacks and certain cancers.
There are many different ways to enjoy peppers in your home cooking. Here are three of my favorite ways, using fresh basil, mint and onions from my garden. The colorful bell peppers came from my local co-op, because mine are just starting to grow, as you’ve seen above.
Grilled Peppers: How convenient that peppers ripen just in time for BBQ season, since they taste so delicious on the grill! First, cut off the stem, and remove seeds and membranes. Apply a thin layer of olive oil, rosemary or thyme, and freshly grated salt and pepper to taste.
Grill peppers about 5 to 6 inches above the heat on the grill, until the skin blisters evenly. Place peppers in a plastic bag and let cool. The skin will peel away easily. We often store ours for a few days in the refrigerator with a thin layer of olive oil and basil leaves on top. They taste great on cheese sandwiches with basil.
Sautéed Peppers: Use your imagination on this dish! We start with a finely chopped onion and some garlic, which we sauté gently in olive oil, with a little salt, until cooked. Then we add fresh peppers that have been cleaned and chopped into tiny squares or thin slivers one inch long. Along with your peppers, add a generous splash of balsamic vinegar or your favorite wine, as well as herbs and spices like thyme, oregano, rosemary and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook until peppers begin to soften. Don’t overcook peppers, or you’ll remove the crunch, taste and nutrients. If you use basil, add the herb at the very end.
We toss sautéed peppers in scrambled eggs, quiches, pasta sauces and casseroles. The sky is the limit! And it’s a great way to add more healthy veggies to our diets.
Stuffed Peppers: It’s quite convenient for home cooks that delicious peppers lend themselves so well to stuffing. With so many peppers around at this time of year, you can get creative with your concoctions. Fill peppers of all types with healthy and seasonal ingredients like chopped vegetables, herbs, nuts, cheeses, quinoa, couscous or ground meats.
To get you started, here’s a vegetarian recipe created just for you, which celebrates the unforgettable tastes of a Mediterranean summer.
Mediterranean Inspired Stuffed Peppers
2 bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise with seeds and membrane removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup frozen spinach, defrosted, drained and dried completely
¾ cup couscous
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons pistachio or walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon olives, sliced and pitted (optional)
2 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled into small pieces
2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne and paprika 1 tablespoon of olive oil (approximately)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Cook couscous, as directed on package. Typically, that means bring water to boil, add olive oil, stir in couscous, mix, cover and rest away from heat for 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside with other ingredients.
3. Combine other ingredients in a separate bowl, except peppers, paprika and parmesan cheese.
4. Sauté onions, garlic and frozen spinach until cooked. Add to other ingredients and mix well.
5. Stuff pepper cavities with herb and spinach mixture. Sprinkle with paprika. Place on greased baking pan.
6. Bake covered with tin foil for 30 minutes. Add parmesan cheese on top, and cook 15 minutes longer.
7. Serve immediately.