Peter Piper must have had a preponderance of perplexion when picking particular peppers to pickle - so vast is the selection.
We're most familiar with Capsicum annuum, the green, yellow and red bell peppers. But there are also bell cousin varieties of sweet orange, black, white and even lilac-colored peppers.And then there is the popular group of hundreds of different peppers named Capsicum frutescens, commonly known as hot chil peppers, that vary in heat from semi-scorching to ridiculous.
Both groups of peppers are native South American plants that were originally cultivated by the Aztecs.
Used as culinary flavoring, and containing a rich source of vitamin C, peppers were eventually brought to Europe by a pepper-loving Columbus. Their popularity quickly spread to Asia and the Orient. And today, peppers are widely used in fresh, dried and ground forms throughout the world.
Deciding what to call the things can be confusing. For many, "peppers" is a catch-all term for sweet and hot capsicums, while for others only mild, sweet capsicums are considered peppers, with the rest being "chiles."
Even more confusing, some peppers have different names when sold in their fresh and dried forms. Ancho peppers are dried poblanos; the trendy smoked, dried or canned chipotles are actually jalapenos.
And there are various forms of dried chiles. Cayenne pepper (named after the French Guyana city) is made by drying and grinding the fruits of a hot variety of capsicum into powder.
On either side of the Atlantic, chili powder is two different spices. In Britain, chili powder refers to ground chiles, while in the United States, chili powder is a darker-colored mixture of chiles, cumin and oregano.
Paprika is another variation, with degrees of heat. The best is considered to be Hungarian "noble rose." Other types of paprika are made from various European varieties of dried sweet peppers.
There are hundreds of different chile sauces and chile-based flavorings throughout the world. Louisiana hot pepper sauces, notably Tabasco by the McIlhenny Company, which is made from salt, vinegar and red pepper pods; Chinese and Thai Chili oils; soy bean and chili pastes; and Korean kimchi are a few of the more popular palate-burners.
The main nutritional plus of all peppers is their high concentration of vitamin C. When ripened to its yellow, orange or red color, the common bell pepper contains up to four times as much vitamin C as an orange. Just one small green pepper provides more than double the recommended daily requirement.
Certain hot chiles are effective in alleviating cold symptoms by literally causing the nasal passages to open (spontaneous combustion?). Capsaicin triggers a flow of water to dilute clogged membranes.
It's true! Research has shown that chile-eaters rarely suffer from chronic bronchitis. In short, hot foods, especially chilies, trigger expectoration, just as expectorant medicines do.
Some hot-pepper-eaters experience a curious state of mild euphoria they refer to as a "pepper high." It's a sensation of floating detachment from the rest of the body.
Strange but true - the effect may be caused by endorphins. These natural pain killers are released from the brain in response to pain signals received from the pepper-popping victim's burning lips and mouth.
For those who opt for nonscintillating peppers, homemade bell pepper fillets are a great staple to have on hand for appetizers, salads and side dishes.
Grill peppers on the outdoor barbecue or broil them until the skin is uniformly blackened and blistered. Turn them as they blacken, watching them carefully. Let them cool in a covered bowl or closed brown paper bag (the steam loosens the skins).
When they are cool enough to touch, about 10 minutes, peel off the skins. Remove the seeds and white inner membranes, and cut bell peppers into fillets.
Put fillets into a large clean jar that has been previously sterilized in boiling water. Top with enough olive oil to cover the peppers and screw on the lid. Keep refrigerated and consume within a week.
The "pickled peppers" can be eaten with crusty bread and garlic oil for a deliciously sweet and hearty "nosh."
Maybe we'll never know what kind of pepper Peter Piper picked. It depends on whether he had the sniffles, hunger pangs or simply needed a "pepper-upper."
CHINESE SPARERIBS WITH GLAZED FRESH PEPPERS
Submitted by Ellen Koucos,
Salt Lake City
Approximate cost: $9
Yield: 6 servings
Evaluation: These oriental-style ribs are a perfect companion to bell peppers. For a healthier version, drain off the fat after the ribs have baked for an hour; then complete baking ribs with the sauce. We used fresh ginger for added flavor.
4 pounds spareribs, cut into serving pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium pineapple
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ginger
2 cups fresh orange juice
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound small fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 green bell pepper, cut into squares
1 red bell pepper, cut into squares
Place spareribs, bone-side down, in a shallow baking pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven for 1 hour. Pare pineapple; cut in half lengthwise. Remove core; cut into cubes. Combine brown sugar, cornstarch, dry mustard and ginger in medium saucepan. Stir in orange and lemon juices and soy sauce; bring to a boil. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly, remove from heat. Melt butter in skillet. Add mushrooms; saute for 5 minutes, stir frequently. Pour sauce over spareribs. Add onion, peppers, pineapple and mushrooms. Bake 30 minutes; baste occasionally with sauce in pan.
- Each serving contains 1437 calories, 96g fat, 48g carb, 1304mg sodium, 375mg cholesterol.
STUFFED JALAPENO APPETIZERS
Submitted by Mimi Price,
Salt Lake City
Approximate cost: $4.50
Yield: 8 servings
Evaluation: This spicy appetizer can be toned down or heated up by removing seeds from the jalapeno pepper or by using a hotter cheese such as Pepper Monterey Jack cheese. Any way you fix 'em, they're great!
1 jar whole jalapeno peppers
8 ounces cheddar cheese, cut in small cubes
1 1/2 pounds pork sausage, sliced in patties
1 package refrigerator biscuits
Remove stems from peppers. Split each pepper and stuff with cubes of cheese. Wrap in sausage patty. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minutes or until sausage is done. Blot with paper towels and let cool on rack. Roll each biscuit out until thin. Roll up sausage/pepper/cheese combo in biscuit with ends open (like "Pigs in a Blanket"). Bake according to biscuit package directions. Serve hot.
- Each serving contains 560 calories 42g fat, 19g carb, 2000 mg sodium, 102mg cholesterol.
CHICKEN PASTA TOSS
Submitted by Harli Zaugg,
Approximate cost: $5
Yield: 4 servings
Evaluation: This mixture of crunchy vegetables (make sure not to overcook), chicken and pasta is a tasty entree. We tested it hot, but this versatile dish would also make a super cold pasta salad.
2 medium carrots
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 pound boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Season-All
1/4 teaspoon dried minced garlic or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 pound spaghetti
1 cup fresh mushrooms
Cut carrots and pepper into thin strips and chicken into bite-size pieces. Toss chicken and veggies in a bowl with the oil and spices. Cover and marinate several hours or overnight. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and rinse when completely cooked. While the pasta is cooking, slice mushrooms and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and stir fry chicken mixture until chicken is cooked through and veggies are tender-crisp. Add mushrooms and cook 1 to 2 more minutes. Combine spaghetti and chicken mixture and toss gently until well-mixed. Serve immediately topped with Parmesan cheese.
- Each serving contains 505 calories, 29g fat, 33g carb, 281mg sodium, 57mg cholesterol.
Submitted by Fay Sargent,
Salt Lake City
Approximate cost: $4
Yield: 4 servings
Evaluation: Classic stuffed pepper dish. If you've never prepared these little beauties, try this easy-to-make recipe. The mozzarella cheese is a nice touch.
4 green peppers
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 1/3 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 slices Mozzarella cheese, cut in strips
Rinse peppers and cut a thin slice from stem end of each. Remove white fiber and seeds; rinse. Drop peppers into boiling salted water to cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove peppers from water, invert and set aside to drain. Heat 1/4 cup oil in skillet. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Stir in cooked rice, onion, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Lightly fill peppers with rice/meat mixture, heaping slightly. Set in a 2-quart baking dish. Mix tomatoes, water, celery and remaining oil, salt and pepper; pour around peppers. Put strips of mozzarella cheese on each pepper. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 15 minutes.
- Each serving contains 572 calories, 35g fat, 28g carb, 919mg sodium, 100mg cholesterol.
LAYERED BEAN DIP WITH GRILLED CHICKEN, JALAPENO LIME SOUR CREAM & CURLY TORTILLA STRIPS
Submitted by Janet Barton,
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Approximate cost: $6
Evaluation: We could live on this recipe! A Southwestern appetizer that easily could become a family favorite.
For Layered Bean Dip:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 fresh jalapeno peppers
1 tablespoon grated lime peel
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 cup sour cream
1 16-ounce can refried beans
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
2/3 cup Salsa Verde
2/3 cups grated cheddar cheese
3 chopped green onions
1/3 cup sliced olives
1 chopped tomato
For Curly Tortilla Strips:
2 packages corn tortillas
1/4 cup canola oil
1 package taco seasoning mix
Grill or broil chicken breasts 6-7 minutes on each side, or until done. Let cool. Meanwhile, in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse jalapenos, lime peel, lime juice and cilantro until finely chopped. Fold into sour cream, set aside. On a large platter spread refried beans into a circle. Then layer with sour cream mixture. Carefully spread salsa verde over sour cream. Finely chop cooled chicken and sprinkle over salsa verde. Layer with cheese, green onions, tomato and olives. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush both sides of tortillas with oil. Cut into wavy strips with scissors. Arrange on baking sheet and sprinkle with taco seasoning mix. Bake for 7-8 minutes or until starting to brown around edges. Arrange around Layered Bean Dip and serve immediately.
- Each serving contains 354 calories, 17g fat, 35g carb, 781mg sodium, 40mg cholesterol.
BEEF WITH GREEN PEPPERS
Submitted by Jan Bradford,
West Valley City
Approximate cost: $4
Yield: 4-6 servings
Evaluation: Another stir-fry quick-fix with peppers. The peppers are delicious when barely stir-fried, keeping them crisp-tender.
1/2 pound boneless tender beef
Oil for frying
1 to 3 green onions
2 to 3 green peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon MSG (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger or fresh grated ginger root to taste
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Slice beef into thin strips and marinate in 1/2 teaspoon salt, cornstarch, MSG (if desired), ginger, water, 1 tablespoon oil, and soy sauce for about 45 minutes. While meat is marinating, slice green peppers into thin strips lengthwise. Using white portion of green onion, cut into thin strips along the length of the onion. Heat the wok or fry pan; add 3-4 tablespoons oil. Add meat and stir fry until browned. Remove and drain. Add more oil to the wok, if necessary, and stir fry the vegetables until heated. Add meat, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste); heat through. Serve over cooked rice.
- Each serving contains 280 calories, 11g fat, 31g carb, 902mg sodium, 34mg cholesterol.