Bell peppers are one of our favourite vegetables; although technically they are a fruit, they are referred to as vegetables in the culinary world. They are hardy, easy to grow, they are as delicious raw as they are cooked, and when they are cooked, they can be made into an almost inexhaustible variety of dishes from many cuisines.
Bell peppers, also known as Capsicum, are a cultivated form of the species capsicum annum, yet have none of the heat associated with that plant since they do not contain capsaicin, the chemical that you associate with hot peppers.
Bell peppers are most commonly red, green, yellow and orange; green peppers are simply unripe red Bell peppers while yellow and orange peppers are different varieties cultivated from the same mother species. Bell peppers also come in purple, white and variegated varieties as well, so a whole range of colours and flavours can be added to your cuisine by choosing your favourite.
Even though red peppers are just ripe green peppers, they are usually more expensive. They take longer to mature, so there is less yield per plant as the pepper plant will continue to produce fruit after they are picked. Not surprisingly, a ripe bell pepper is sweeter-less bitter-than its immature green brethren, and is also higher in nutritional value, possessing nine times the anti-oxidant lycopene and carotene as well as over 200 mg of vitamin C.
Depending on whether you want green or red peppers, bell peppers can be harvested pretty much all summer, with a typical plant producing upwards of a dozen peppers.
Green peppers are most often seen in stir-frys, or stuffed with filling and baked or skewered onto shish-kebabs, while red bell peppers are available for a little more adventure. Certainly any pepper works well for the barbeque or stir fry, but red bell peppers, roasted on an open grill or blackened in the oven transform into a culinary delight, ready to star in a surprising array of dishes or sauces like Romesco, one of the best, low-fat, vegan sauces out there.
Many recipes for red pepper dips and sauces call for prepared pimento, drained from a can, or roasted-or grilled red pepper, skin and seeds and pith removed. Roasting and or grilling is totally simple and really quick. And blackening your pepper on your barbeque will impart a lovely smoky flavour as well. Furthermore, for those of us that hate to see beautiful coals go to waste, it is a great way to maximize the use of the coals which are just perfect for grilling peppers and other veggies once the steak is resting.
Just place your red peppers on the hot grill a few inches over the coals and wait a few minutes. When the skin nearest the coals starts to blacken and blister, use long tongs to rotate the peppers. Repeat until the entire pepper has been blackened, might as well do the top and bottom too.
Remove peppers from grill and place in steel mixing bowl and cover with saran wrap. Once cooled, place in your fridge. When totally cool, about fifteen minutes, remove skins with your fingers. The peppers will be super soft and the skins will peel off really easily. Cut the peppers and remove and discard pith and seeds, do not rinse under running water. In fact, don’t rinse at all, so what if a few seeds or bits of charred skin remain? Washing away those tiny bits will wash away all the smokey flavour from the grill. Once cleaned, you are left with beautiful, soft grilled red peppers ready to do your bidding. Pop them into a few freezer bags and you can have them within reach at any time. You might want to roast some peppers today and use them in a fabulous dip like this…
Martha’s Roast Pepper, Paprika & Walnut Dip
3 red bell peppers
1 6-inch pita bread
1 cup water
1 garlic clove
4 ounces walnut pieces, toasted, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- Roast peppers. Peel, and discard skins, stems, and seeds. Set peppers aside.
- Toast pita bread until crisp and golden. Break into 2-inch pieces; place in a bowl, and cover with the water. Soak until soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a sieve, and drain well, pressing out excess water. Set aside.
- Combine garlic and walnut pieces in the bowl of a food processor; process until fine crumbs form, about 10 seconds. Add paprika, cumin, and reserved peppers and pita bread; process until smooth, about 10 seconds. Add vinegar, lemon juice, oil, and salt, and season with black pepper. Pulse until combined.
- Transfer to a serving bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Before serving, bring to room temperature. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with walnuts.