Here’s my confession: Peppers are not my favorite food. For that reason, the 10 recipes that follow are especially guaranteed to be a success. If they can please a skeptic like me, they will certainly please a more open-minded eater!
Hot peppers: These include jalapenos and their relatives, like the orange beauties in the title photo. In general, the brighter the color, the hotter the spice: here’s a quick guide. Remember to never, never dice a hot pepper without gloves, as they can irritate and even burn your skin; if you think you can handle the heat, test your sensitivity by rubbing a cut piece of pepper on the inside skin of your wrist, and have some ice handy.
- Salsa: perhaps an obvious choice, but also a great one, . It can be canned for long-term storage or enjoyed instantly. Jalapenos are especially good paired with tomatillos in green salsa. Any salsa can be pureed, toned down with olive oil (or not) and double as a dressing for salad.
- Escabeche: I found this recipe a few years ago in desperation, after our pepper plants had overproduced and I was out of ideas. Basically, you cook whole peppers along with other vegetables, then can them in a vinegar solution. about pickles, but these are delicious. I usually dump a whole jar in the food processor, fish out most of the stems and seeds, and puree until chunky, then use it to poach fish; the vegetables (and peppers, if you’re brave) can also be an appetizer or side dish on their own.
- Cornbread Dressing: It may sound strange, but mixed with crumbled cornbread, pecans, bacon, chopped parsley and perhaps some dried fruit, hot peppers add a completely new dimension to this Thanksgiving staple (which, by the way, you can make anytime!)
- Salads: Chiles are a little strong for green salads, but I like them paired with sturdier vegetables like this sweet potato version. (Yes, it also includes bell pepper, but I never use it—one of the few points on which I disagree with the venerable Mark Bittman.)
- Jam: The classic combination of hot-pepper jam with cream cheese, eaten on crackers or bagels, is rightfully popular with just about everyone. My cousins from Texas make this delicious jam with habaneros, which are very dangerous to handle but wonderful when tempered by the other ingredients. Seed and mince ¾ cup yellow or orange bell pepper and ¼ cup habanero; combine with 6 ½ cups sugar and 1 ½ cups vinegar and boil 2 minutes. Cool 5 minutes and add 6 oz. pectin; return to a boil for one minutes and pour into sterilized jars. Seal in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
Bell peppers: By definition, bell peppers have no spice, although some hot peppers are so mild I would include them in this category too (Anaheim chiles, for example.) I have tried to like them, but I just don’t in most cases, especially the green and purple varieties, which tend to have a bitter, grassy taste that doesn’t agree with me. However, I am a fan of the following:
- Sauteed Wit’ Onions: Simply slice into strips and cook in olive oil over low heat until caramelized. For whatever idiosyncratic reason, I prefer green peppers and white onions as an accompaniment to sausages or cheesesteaks, and red onions with yellow / orange / red bell peppers as an absolutely divine topping to pasta. (To this last dish, add some garlic in the beginning, when sautéing the onions, and finish with grated Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. You will swoon.)
- Salads and Pizza: Peppers can top both, though I don’t care for the first and am very picky about the second (thin strips of very fresh green bell peppers are acceptable, but not much else.)
- Stuffed: Cored or cut in half lengthwise, bell peppers make a natural holder for an infinite variety of fillings: vegetables and cheese, rice and sausage, even herbed polenta. I usually end up eating most of the filling and very little of the shell, but they do look beautiful on the plate!
- Roasted: Place whole peppers under the broiler or on the grill; turn with tongs every minute or two until blackened all over. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to cool about an hour, then slip off the skin and cut out the core. You’re left with flesh that is charred, sweet and rather strong; I like them in small doses on sandwiches and in hummus, but others love them in larger quantities in salads and with pasta.
- Cocktails: I know this sounds simply insane, but after having read this article on a plane last month, I’m dying to try the Beautiful Red Bell, in which slices of red bell pepper are muddled with mint and syrup and topped with gin.
Sweet peppers: These are usually long and light-colored, but some are bright red or orange. They are usually eaten raw or pickled (the pale green pepperoncini included with pizza or Greek salads fall into this category.) I have never enjoyed them, but I’m open to suggestions; I’m sure you must have some great ideas!