Pepper Pick

Last week, the good folks at Lezzet Spices sent me a sample of a spice that’s become my new obsession: isot pepper. It’s described as having a smoky raisin-like flavor. Personally, I get more dried plum than raisin. And it’s got a mild-medium heat that lingers and builds on your palate. “But Tim,” you say, “hot, smoky prunes just aren’t my thing.” I know, I know. But did I mention that it’s also really moist? Fresh mulch kind of moist. And no, I’m not a paid spokesperson.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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I guess what grabs me is that its flavor and texture are so unique. And while it may not be as versatile as say, regular ol’ red pepper flakes, I can think of several ways isot can be put to excellent use, e.g.: mixed into a spice rub for grilled pork, sprinkled over stonefruit salsa, or baked into oatmeal-raisin cookies. I highly recommend adding it to your spice cabinet arsenal. Lezzet sells a 1.6-ounce tin for about $8.

Rooster sauce with a citrusy tang&hellip

Sriracha sauce is the perfect base for all sorts of sauces. Its mix of red jalapeños peppers, tomato, and garlic works with anything from pasta sauces to barbecue wet rubs. This Sriracha lime sauce sits somewhere in-between the two. It&rsquos an excellent serving sauce for chicken or steak, with both heat and citrusy tang. Or try it as a dipping sauce fo satay as a an alternative to a typical spicy peanut sauce.

If you want more heat in this sauce, look to the spice rack. A pinch of cayenne pepper is your best bet as you want to keep the balance of Sriracha to lime juice even.

Cowhorn Pepper Harvest

Freshly Picked Cowhorn Peppers

Today’s garden harvest included Cowhorn peppers. Cowhorns are named for their tendency to curl at the ends and resemble the twisted horns of a cow. They can get 8 to 10 inches long and turn from green to brown to red when allowed to fully ripen.

2017 Update: I’ve just begun my third year growing Cowhorn peppers and still swear by them as they seem to be more prolific and hardy than jalapeno (at least in US zone 7 where I live). I also prefer their flavor to jalapeno and their heat level is more consistent making it easier for me to use in fresh preparations.

2018 Update: We have had a cooler, wetter summer than usual here in Georgia and my Cowhorn peppers are loving it! They are bigger and hotter than ever. While I love the extra heat of the peppers this year, I am having to remove the seeds and membrane for cooking for my family. When removing the seeds and membrane from hot peppers, either use gloves or a spoon to avoid “hot hands” and if you choose to go bare-handed, keep your hands away from your eyes!

Growing tips:

  • Plant outdoors about 2 weeks after last frost date as they prefer warm soil temps.
  • Plant in 15 to 18 inch pots or allow 18 to 24 inches between plants in the garden.
  • I use a planting mixture of 30% compost, 50% planting soil and 20% peat, seed starter mix or chopped dry leaf mulch.
  • One or two deep waterings per week is all they’ll need.
  • If you choose to fertilize, do it only after blooms appear or you’ll end up with plenty of greenery with fewer blossom and fruit output. One topcoat of composted soil after fruit set is sufficient, refresh compost topcoat about every 3-4 weeks.
  • They can get finicky in temps above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and won’t like to set blossoms. At the hottest point in summer I like to pick fruit already set so they don’t get too stressed. When temps start to cool down again they will pick right back up where they left off and provide peppers through the first frost, later if you protect them at night.
  • If planting in pots, move them around to shadier parts when temps get consistently over 90. Give them sun during the cooler parts of the day (at least 6-8 hours). Yield will still slow down, but you’ll continue to have peppers all summer.

The heat of this pepper variety ranges between 2,500 and 5,000 units on the Scoville Scale. They are usually sweeter and a little milder than the Jalapeno (which ranges between 2,500 and 10,000 units), especially if you pick them before they fully ripen and turn red.

They have great fresh flavor for chopping and using in salsa or Pico de Gallo, or cooking into chili, soups, stews or casseroles (like mac-n-cheese).

The wall of the Cowhorn pepper is also a little meatier than it’s hot pepper counterparts, making it a superior choice for drying. The best way to dry them is to lay clean, dry peppers flat on a parchment lined baking sheet and dry them in the oven on low temperature (200 degrees Fahrenheit) for 1 to 2 hours.

After drying, let cool and crush or grind for hot pepper flakes (removing the seeds first will make for a mild ground pepper, while leaving seeds in will result in a hotter mixture similar to Cayenne).

Or, leave dried peppers whole and store, sealed in the refrigerator for up to one week, or the freezer for up to one year.

Reconstitute the dried peppers in hot liquid (water, broth or beer) to make a pepper base for sauces, salsa, soup or stew.

I decided to pickle this batch and used a quick pickling method for storage in the refrigerator. If you are making a large batch and wish to put them up using a canning method, go to the: National Center For Home Food Preservation

Need other ideas for using your peppers? Try homemade Simple Salsa , Hot Peach Jam, a fresh Pico de Gallo, a green or red Dragon Cayenne Ketchup or Hot Sauce!

Cincinnati Chili and pickled Cowhorn peppers are a match made in heaven.

Split and seeded Cowhorn peppers are delicious stuffed with mashed sweet potatoes and grilled!

The quick pickling recipe I used today could be used for any hot or sweet pepper.

Pickled Cowhorn Peppers

Quick Pickled Cowhorn Peppers

2 cups white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coriander seed

2 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar or raw sugar (raw will tinge the liquid slightly, regular granulated will be clear)

1 pound peppers, washed, sliced and tops discarded

Place all ingredients except peppers in nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let the pickling liquid cool for about 15 minutes.

Sliced and waiting for pickling liquid

Divide and place peppers in sterilized jars or heat/cold safe nonreactive containers. Cover with pickling liquid, seal and refrigerate for at least 5 days before eating. Follow the link listed above for canning methods.

Pickled peppers should keep in the refrigerator for up to one month if they are covered with the pickling liquid. Freeze within one week if don’t think you will eat them quickly. Always check your containers for food safety and do not eat it if you aren’t sure.

When your jar of pickled Cowhorn peppers is gone, don’t throw the pickling liquid away! Use it in place of vinegar in dressings and sauces. Need suggestions? Try it in:

How Hot is the Cubanelle Pepper?

The Cubanelle pepper is quite mild, measuring in at 0 &ndash 1,000 Scoville Heat Units, which is quite a bit milder than a typical jalapeno pepper. Jalapeno peppers average about 5,000 SHU, so the hottest Cubanelle pepper is still 5 times milder than an average jalapeno pepper. Still, you may notice a twinge of heat, depending on your heat preference and tolerance.

Ultimate Sweet Pepper Guide: Plant & Grow

Types and Varieties of Sweet Peppers

I've read a number of sites that say that yellow peppers are just red peppers that aren't all the way ripened. I don't know what kind they are growing, but after 20 years of growing peppers that has never been my experience.

If you buy a red pepper seed or plant, they will ripen from green to red, yellow peppers from green to yellow and so on. Some of the more unusual peppers do have different stages (I think there is a white pepper that goes from green to white to red), but mostly, you get what you purchased.

Here are some of the sweet pepper varieties I've grown and loved in my zone 8 PNW garden:

  • Red Bell Pepper: Big Red Pepper (75 days), New Ace Red Pepper (62 days)
  • Yellow/Gold Bell Pepper: Flavor Burst Pepper (75 days), Sweet Sunrise (80 days) ('Eros' 75 days) ('Mini Belle Blend' 60 days) (75 days) ('Lilac' 70 days) ('Chocolate Beauty' 74 days) - SO good and sweet! (75 days)

Tip: How to Check for the Hotness of Jalapeños

Elise founded Simply Recipes in 2003 and led the site until 2019. She has an MA in Food Research from Stanford University.

Ever take home a jalapeño chile pepper from the grocery store and have it either be so lacking in heat it may just as well be a bell pepper, or so hot a speck will create a raging inferno in your mouth?

Here's a quick tip for choosing jalapeños that can help you decide which ones to pick.

As they age, some peppers develop white lines and flecks, like stretch marks running in the direction of the length of the pepper. The stretch marks are also indicative of the amount of stress the pepper plant has endured.

A pepper plant that is stressed, having the soil get dry between infrequent waterings, appears to have an impact on the the hotness of the pepper.

The older the pepper, and the more stress the plant has been under, the more white lines you'll see, and the hotter the pepper will be.

The smoother the pepper, the younger, less stressed, and milder it is.

Left on the plant (and even after picked) green jalapeños will eventually turn red. So red jalapeños are older than green jalapeños. The red ones can be pretty hot, especially if they have a lot of striations, but they are also sweeter than the green.

If you are trying to avoid the hottest jalapeños (say for a stuffed jalapeno dish), pick the chiles without any striations. If you are looking for heat, find a red or green one with plenty of white stretch marks.

Note that this is just a guideline. There is still plenty of variation among individual peppers. Make sure to taste test a chili before using it in a recipe!

The best way to taste test?

Capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat, is concentrated around the seeds and in the ribs. The flesh of the chile that is closer to the seeds will be hotter than the flesh near the tip.

So the best way to taste a potentially hot chili is to cut off a small piece at the tip and have a nibble (you'll have less chance of burning your tongue if the chili is really hot).

For cooking, if you want to lower the heat of the chiles, cut the peppers in half, scrape out and discard the seeds and inner ribs (use gloves and don't touch your eyes). If you want more heat, just add back some seeds with the rest of the jalapeño.

When Are Peppers Ripe?

Different pepper varieties ripen at different rates. Hot and spicy peppers are typically slower to ripen, while sweet peppers are quicker. If you have a seed packet, check the back to get an idea of how long before your peppers are mature.

Peppers Change Color

The best way to tell when peppers are ready to pick is to observe changes in color. Almost all pepper varieties will go through a color change during the ripening process. For example, bell peppers change from green to a deep red when fully ripened. When you buy red bell peppers, they are simply ripened green peppers!

It can be tempting to pick your peppers before they change color, and this is okay to do. Peppers are edible at any stage of growth, but the flavor will be different. Peppers picked early will usually have less sweetness and more bitterness.

We prefer to allow our peppers to reach full maturity before harvesting. If you just can’t wait, it is okay to pick a few, but leave some so that you can decide which you prefer. As a bonus, spicy varieties usually become hotter as they remain on the plant.

Time Since Planting

Under ideal conditions, most pepper varieties can begin producing ripe & ready peppers after 90-150+ days. If you are growing any of the superhot varieties, like the ghost pepper or any habaneros, they will take longer. Bell peppers and jalapenos are typically ready for harvesting on the lower end of that scale.

If you started your seeds indoors, your plants will produce more peppers, but may also take slightly longer to mature. This is because the first few months are dedicated to leafy growth. Only after the plants mature in size will they begin to set fruit.

If you see fruits that appear to be ready, consider when they were planted. If it seems too early to harvest, it probably is. Don’t rush your peppers, they will ripen in their own time!

Timing is especially good to keep in mind as the growing season draws to a close. You don’t want to let your pepper plants stay overnight if there is a potential frost. Be sure to harvest any final peppers before this occurs (usually around October in the Northeast US – check your area).

Pepper Corking

Corking is a natural marking that can appear on many pepper varieties. It occurs when a pepper’s skin grows slower than the flesh, causing tiny tears in the skin. The white lines appear when the skin heals over the wounds.

Healthy jalapeno corking.

Corking is usually a desirable characteristic to pepper geeks. It signifies that there has been healthy growth, and is a sign of a ripening pepper. If your peppers have corking, it is likely that they are coming close to ripeness.

Pick a Pepper

The variety of peppers is as wide as their health benefits. Blistered Shishito Peppers are an easy and quick appetizer. Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet on high heat and flip occasionally until they start to blister and blacken. Sprinkle with salt and enjoy right away!

The pepper plant’s origin is firmly rooted in the Americas, but the diversity of peppers has led to the spread of this vegetable throughout the world. In the 1400s, peppers made their way from Latin America to Spain, eventually reaching around the world and into Asian cuisine. From the humble sweet peppers, such as bell and pimento, to fiery chilis, each variety has its own unique culinary contribution.

The heat of peppers, which is perhaps the most significant difference in varieties, is measured by the Scoville Scale. Peppers are ordered on this scale based on the level of capsaicin, the chemical that creates the heat we feel when biting into a pepper. The heat is measured in Scoville Heat Units, or SHU. At one end of the scale, bell peppers sit at a sweet zero. On the other end are Ghost Peppers and Carolina Reapers reaching as high as 2 million. Each type of pepper can fall in a range of SHU based on how it is grown and when it is harvested.

Just as the variety of peppers is wide, so too are their effects on health. In the milder peppers, such as bell and pimento, antioxidants and vitamins abound. They also have a high water content, making them a filling and hydrating snack. As the peppers increase in SCH though, they begin to take on some less healthy characteristics as well. Extremely hot peppers can induce sweating, increase heart rate, create digestive discomfort, or even cause chemical burns to the skin and mouth. That is why it is important to be careful in handling chilis when preparing or eating.

To avoid harm when handling hot chili peppers, use gloves when chopping and avoid contact with your eyes until after removing the gloves. Even with comparatively mild chilis like the jalapeno or shishito, chemicals can still burn. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling these peppers, especially their seeds.

Roasted peppers can be purchased in a can from the store, but in the time it takes to locate them on aisle four, you could have made freshly roasted peppers right at home. To roast the pepper, you need a gas range and a pepper large enough to sit on the eye — habaneros for example will be too small, but this technique works perfectly for a bell pepper. Toss these roasted peppers into any number of recipes, several of which are listed below.

Wash pepper thoroughly and dry. Turn a gas eye on to medium heat. Place pepper directly on the eye so that the flames just lick the bottom of the pepper. The skin of the pepper will blacken. As this happens, use a set of tongs to turn the pepper until each side is blackened. Once the pepper is entirely black, remove the pepper from the stovetop and set aside to cool. Once the pepper has cooled, halve and use a paring knife to remove the seeds and the thin layer of blackened skin.

Roasted Pepper and Dill Soup

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups roasted bell peppers
1 32-ounce container of broth of choice
1 tablespoon dill
¼ cup half-and-half
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, warm oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, sauteing until softened. Add the roasted bell peppers and broth and bring the mixture to a simmer. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth. If an immersion blender is unavailable, transfer the mixture to a standard blender to puree, returning the soup to the pot when smooth. Add half-and-half, dill, salt, and pepper to the soup. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes to allow the flavors to get acquainted. Serve warm with a few slices of heavily buttered toast.

Roasted Pepper Pasta Sauce

The sweetness of the peppers and the umami of the Parmesan pair beautifully in this rich sauce.

½ cup roasted bell peppers
¼ cup heavy cream
1 garlic clove
¼ cup pasta water
1 teaspoon tomato paste
¼ cup freshly shredded Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Place peppers, garlic, cream, and pasta water into a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and warm on medium heat. Once the mixture begins to bubble, add tomato paste, salt, pepper, and Parmesan. Stir to combine and reduce the heat to medium low. Allow the sauce to cook an additional 5 minutes or until it begins to thicken. Toss with your preferred pasta and garnish with fresh basil.

Kung Pao Stuffed Bell Pepper

Kung Pao Chicken is a traditional Chinese dish featuring two types of peppers: bell and Sichuan. The bell peppers bring a sweet flavor and crunchy texture while the Sichuan chili peppers add heat to the sauce. This recipe is a spin on the traditional dish. Instead of cooking the bell peppers alongside the chicken, the chicken and rice will be stuffed into the bell pepper for a lovely presentation.

4 large bell peppers
4 cups of chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon dry sherry
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
2 teaspoons and 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or Chinese black vinegar
1½ tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 dried Sichuan peppers
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
5 stalks of green onions
½ cup roasted peanuts
2 cups of cooked white rice

Whisk the sherry, 1½ tablespoons soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch together. Toss the chicken in the marinade and set aside while preparing the sauce. To create the sauce, combine remaining cornstarch and soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Set aside.

Cut the Sichuan peppers into 1-inch pieces, allowing the seeds to fall out. Discard seeds. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add Sichuan peppers, garlic, and ginger. Heat until the mixture becomes fragrant, approximately 2 minutes.

Slice the green onions into thirds. Using the middle section, slice further into 1-inch pieces. Add small green onion pieces and marinated chicken to the pan, being sure not to crowd the pan. This may need to be done in several rounds depending on the size of your skillet. Stir occasionally until chicken is cooked through. Add the sauce and stir to coat the chicken. Continue cooking until the sauce has thickened a bit, approximately 4 minutes. At this point, for a less spicy dish the Sichuan peppers can be removed. Toss in the roasted peanuts.

Cut the top from each bell pepper, removing the stem, seeds, and pith. Spoon ½ cup of rice into the bottom of the pepper and fill the rest of the pepper with the Kung Pao chicken. Serves 4.

2 pounds cheddar cheese
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon garlic salt
1 4-ounce jar of pimentos, drained

Shred the cheddar cheese. It’s important to shred your own instead of buying pre-shredded. Strain the liquid from the jar of pimentos. Stir together all ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before enjoying.

Blistered Shishito Peppers

Whip this up for a quick appetizer for friends or snack to enjoy solo.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds shishito peppers
Flaky salt

Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Once it begins to shimmer, add peppers. Flip peppers occasionally until they begin to blister and blacken. Remove from skillet, sprinkle with salt, and enjoy right away.

Reaching for standard chili powder may be the easiest way to season chili, but incorporating whole chili peppers into this stew provides more control over the specific flavors desired. In this particular recipe, guajillo chili peppers bring the heat with a score of approximately 2,000 on the Scoville Scale. Chipotles, which are actually dried jalapenos, contribute a smoky flavor. The ancho chili peppers are less spicy and add a faint sweetness to the dish. These ingredients can easily be found in the Latin section of a grocery store or at your local Mexican grocer.

4 cups chicken broth
2 dried guajillo
2 chipotle in adobo sauce
3 dried ancho
3 pounds ground beef
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon oregano leaves
2 bay leaves

Heat the broth in a large stockpot on high. While waiting for the broth to boil, remove stems and seeds from dried guajillo and ancho chilis. Discard stems and seeds. Place the chili peppers into a blender. Once the broth has boiled, pour it into the blender with the chilis and allow it to soften the dried chilis for 20 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, add the chipotles and blend until smooth.

While waiting for the chilis to soften, proceed with building the rest of the chili. Pour oil into stockpot used to heat the broth and heat on medium. Add the onion, garlic, and tomato paste. Saute until the onions begin to brown. Add ground beef and cook through. Strain off about 60 percent of the fat released from the beef. Return the broth and chili mixture to the pot along with beans, oregano, and bay leaves. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for another 3 hours. Remove bay leaves before serving. Spoon a healthy serving into a bowl and top with sour cream and/or freshly shredded cheddar cheese.

Pickled Habanero Peppers

2 cups habanero peppers, sliced into rings
3 garlic cloves
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Slice habanero peppers into rings, removing seeds for a less spicy pickle. Pack a sanitized canning jar with the peppers and garlic cloves. Combine water, vinegar, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil. Pour the mixture over the peppers and seal. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Recipe Summary

  • 15 habanero peppers
  • 1 small mango - peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 green onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 ½ cups distilled white vinegar
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons dry mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon grated lime zest

Wearing disposable gloves, and being careful not to get any in your eyes or on your skin, roughly chop the habanero peppers. Place the habanero peppers, mango, onion, green onions, and garlic into a blender. Pour in the vinegar, lime juice, and vegetable oil, cover the blender, and pulse until the mixture is very finely chopped. Stop the blender, and add dry mustard powder, salt, curry powder, and lime zest. Blend again until the sauce is smooth. Pour into clean jars, and store in refrigerator.

Slice these and mix with cured meats for a fresher take on antipasto salad.

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