A Primer on Peppers
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
Summer time is fresh pepper time. The heat of midsummer brings all sorts of peppers to the market, so it's a great time to experiment in the kitchen; maybe trying some new varieties, or preparing them in a new way.
Peppers range in flavor from extremely mild bell peppers to scorching hot habaneros. These habaneros get their heat from a compound called capsaicin. The more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper and the smaller they are, the hotter then tend to be, too. Most of the heat is in the stem, ribs and seeds, so remove those before you use them, with really hot peppers, it's a good idea to wear gloves so you don't transfer the heat to your eyes or nose.
For many of us, the heat of the pepper is what makes it such a palate pleaser. But peppers also have a lot going for them nutritionally – they're a good source of vitamin C, beta carotene, folic acid, magnesium and potassium. Red peppers have more vitamin C and beta carotene than yellow peppers, which have more than the green ones.
Here are four ways to add more colorful, nutritious peppers to your diet:
- Sliced raw sweet peppers make colorful additions to salads and sandwiches. You can also stuff whole raw peppers with main-dish salads like tuna or bean salad.
- Add a little heat to everyday foods. Try different peppers to find the level of heat you like. Dice them, then sauté lightly, and add to scrambled eggs, burgers, meat loaf, stir-fries, soups or stews.
- Roasting brings out sweetness, and it's often done because the skins can sometimes be thick and tough. You can roast peppers with tongs over an open flame or under the broiler. Once the skins are blistered, put the peppers in a plastic bag and let them steam for a few minutes. The skins will slip right off under running water. Roasted peppers are delicious on sandwiches, in salads, on pizza and tossed with pasta. You can also puree them into a tasty soup to serve hot or cold.
- Chopped peppers freeze really well, so you can enjoy them all year round. Dice, then store in containers or zippered bags in the freezer. They lose their crunch but not their heat, and they're convenient for adding to recipes in the winter time.