The humble pepper, genus Capsicum, has global appeal. Whether your personal preference is for the hot or sweet variety, you’ll find them used in cuisines from Mexican to Indian, African to Thai. What would Cajun cooking be without green bell peppers, an integral part of the holy trinity that is the basis for all great gumbos, jambalayas and the like? Or Moroccan cuisine without harissa?
A pepper’s heat is measured in Scoville units: for comparison’s sake, a sweet bell pepper rates a zero, while a jalapeño is generally in the 5,000 range. Watch out for the super-spicy habeñero, which can hit 350,000 on the Scoville scale – and there are myriad choices in between. Looking to reduce the heat a bit? Remove the seeds and inner ribbing, which will help significantly.
The Evanston Farmer’s Market carries an impressive range in the pepper family right now, with red, yellow, green, purple, and chocolate bell peppers spotted on a recent visit, along with mini peppers, shishitos, cherry bombs, jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, gypsy and more. Now is the time to experiment with different recipes that showcase these capsicums while there are so many to choose from.
Pickle some jalapeños
We have been growing these in our own garden this summer, and they are bounteous. So, I’ve taken to slicing and pickling these and throwing them in quesadillas, tacos, sandwiches and nachos (of course!). For “quickled” jalapeños, combine a cup each of apple cider vinegar and water, a few smashed cloves of garlic, a generous tablespoon of sugar, a half teaspoon of black peppercorns, a teaspoon of dried oregano and a tablespoon of salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add in 8-10 jalapeños that have been stemmed and then sliced in thin rings (include the seeds!), stir, and remove from heat. Let sit for 15 minutes, then using a slotted spoon, remove peppers and put into a clean glass jar. Pour in enough of the brining liquid to cover the peppers by a half inch or so, then put on a tight-fitting lid. These will keep for a few months in the fridge – if they last that long.
Roast a few peppers.
Sure, you could buy a jar of peeled, roasted peppers at the store, but where’s the fun in that? Preheat your oven to 475F. Line a sheet pan with foil, then place whole bell peppers on the pan and roast in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes until charred. Remove pan from oven and carefully enclose peppers in the foil to steam, which makes it super easy to remove the skins afterward. This also works great on a grill. Be sure to turn the peppers every few minutes to char evenly, then put them in a paper bag to steam. Use instead of tomatoes in your next Caprese salad!
Make a spicy zhoug sauce.
This is a fabulous Yemenite condiment that is fabulous with eggs, fish, chicken, falafel, what have you. In a blender or food processor, combine eight stemmed, halved and seeded jalapeño peppers, 2 cups each chopped cilantro and parsley, a teaspoon of salt, five smashed garlic cloves (add more if you’re a garlic lover), a big pinch of ground pepper, half a teaspoon each of ground cardamom and cumin, and a ¼ cup of good olive oil. Add more salt to taste, or even a squeeze of lemon if you’d like. Put half in a glass jar and store in the fridge; freeze the other half to use this winter when you’ll really need that pop of flavor!
Caramelize some mixed peppers to make rajas.
Colorful is always best, so I use the full stop light component of bell peppers here: one each red, yellow, and green. Stem, seed and thinly slice the bell peppers and peel, halve, and thinly slice a big red onion. Get a big skillet nice and hot, then throw in a good glug of olive oil. Throw in the peppers and onions and sauté on medium-high heat, seasoning them with salt, pepper, ground cumin and dried oregano. I often add in a chopped serrano or two, and some minced fresh garlic. I like them to caramelize and get really nice and tender, which should take about 15 minutes. Perfect for steak or chicken tacos.
Try one of these tried-and-true recipes.
The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some I return to over and over that showcase peppers beautifully.
Williams-Sonoma’s Mexican Stuffed peppers with Chipotle Sweet Potatoes
Gimme Some Oven’s Jambalaya
Chef George Chen’s Wok-Seared Steak Majong with Shishito Peppers
Cookie and Kate’s Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup