Ingredient SpotLight

As people start to think about the fresh produce that the growing season brings, I thought now would be a good time to talk about bell peppers. Not only are they versatile in their uses, they are highly nutritious and easy to use. Bell peppers contain a recessive gene that prevents capsaicin from being produced, so they lack the spiciness that many other varieties of peppers have. Bell peppers are sometimes grouped with less pungent pepper varieties as "sweet peppers".

The term "bell pepper" is one of the many names for some fruits of the Capsicum annuum species of plants. The misleading name "pepper" (pimiento in Spanish) was given by Christopher Columbus upon bringing the plant back to Europe. At that time peppercorns were a highly prized condiment. Today, the term "bell pepper" or "pepper" or "capsicum" is often used for any of the large bell shaped capsicum fruits, regardless of their color. In British English, the fruit is simply referred to as a "pepper", whereas in many Commonwealth of Nations countries, such as Australia, India, Malaysia and New Zealand, they are called "capsicum".

The color can be green, red, yellow, orange and, more rarely, white, purple, blue, and brown, depending on when they are harvested and the specific plant they are from. Green peppers are unripe bell peppers, while the others are all ripe, with the color variation based on the plant. Because they are unripe, green peppers are less sweet and slightly more bitter than yellow, orange, purple or red peppers. The taste of ripe peppers can also vary with growing conditions and post-harvest storage treatment; the sweetest are fruit allowed to ripen fully on the plant in full sunshine, while fruit harvested green and after-ripened in storage are less sweet. Peppers are native to Central and South America. Pepper seeds were later carried to Spain in 1493 and from there spread to other European and Asian countries.

Bell peppers are a great source of vitamin C. Green bell peppers have about 50% more vitamin C than navel oranges by weight, and red bell peppers have about twice as much. They are equally at home in uncooked and cooked settings. Slicing them into salads and salsas give them a bright, fresh flavor, whereas they add an element of savory flavor to soups, stews, stir-fries and more. Here are a few recipes that give just a taste of the variety with which you can use them.

Bell Pepper Salsa

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 yellow hot chile
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 T. chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp. sherry vinegar
  • 1 T. walnut oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Core the peppers. Dice the peppers, tomato, chile, green onions, and garlic very fine and combine all the vegetables. Add the cilantro. Stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Easy Stuffed Peppers

  • 4 large peppers
  • 12 oz. ground turkey
  • 1 c. finely chopped onions
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 1/2 c. cooked rice
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 c. fat-free egg substitute
  • 1 c. low sodium tomato sauce

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove and discard the stems and seeds. Blanch the peppers in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside. Crumble the turkey into a 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with the onions and oregano. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Break up the turkey with a spoon and mix well. Cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes, or until the turkey is cooked through and the onions are translucent. Carefully drain off any accumulated fat. Stir in the rice, Parmesan, egg, and 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Divide the mixture among the pepper halves. Arrange the peppers in a 9" x 13" baking dish. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Cover loosely with wax paper. Microwave on high for 6 minutes. Rearrange the peppers and give the dish a half turn. Cover and microwave on high for 6 minutes.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Thai Chicken Curry

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 T. Thai red curry paste
  • 1 lb. chicken meat, cut into 1" cubes
  • 2 T. fish sauce
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 2 c. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tsp. garlic chili sauce

In a large saucepan, combine the coconut milk and curry paste over medium heat until oil appears on top. Add the chicken, fish sauce, lemon juice and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ingredients except the mushrooms and garlic chili sauce. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic chili sauce to taste. Cover and simmer 2 minutes. Serve hot over rice.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes