A special combination of tangy taste and crunchy grain, sweet bell peppers are the Christmas graces of the vegetable world with their attractively shaped glossy outside that comes in a widely array of vivid colors ranging from green, red, yellow, orange, purple, brown to black. Contempt their varied palette, all are the same plant, known scientifically as Capsicum annuum. They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. Sweet peppers are plump, bell-shaped vegetables featuring either three or four lobes. Green and purple peppers have a slightly tender flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and most fruity. Paprika can be prepared from red bell peppers (as well equally from chili peppers). Bell peppers are not ‘hot’. The particular content that controls “hotness” in peppers is called capsaicin, and it’s came up in very small amounts in bell peppers. Although peppers are available throughout the year, they are most abundant and delicious during the summer and early on fall months.
Capsicum annuum, Solanaceae
The fruit of a plant originally from Latin America, bell pepper (or “sweet pepper”) is a more or less fleshy pod enclosing a quantity of whitish seeds in its internal cavity. There are several varieties, with different shapes, colors and tastes.
The green pepper is picked before reaching full maturity, as green peppers left on the vine turn yellow, then red as they ripen.
The purple, brown and black peppers turn green again if they are left on the plant.
The red and orange peppers are the sweetest. Bell peppers ripened on the plant are sweeter and more perfumed.
While we are most accustomed to seeing green bell peppers in the supermarket, these delicious vegetables actually come in a wide variety of colors, including yellow, orange, red, purple, brown and black. The green bell peppers you purchase in the food market may actually be immature, non-ripe versions of these other color varieties. Not all bell peppers start off green, however, nor do green bell peppers always mature into other basic colors.
Paprika is a dried powdered form of bell pepper, and even though we are used to seeing red paprika in the spice section of the grocery, a paprika can be made from any color of bell pepper and it will end up being that same color once dried and ground into powder.
Bell peppers can be eaten at any stage of development. However, recent research has shown that the vitamin C and carotenoid content of bell peppers tends to increase while the pepper is reaching its optimal ripeness. Bell peppers are also typically more flavorful when optimally ripe.
I enjoy what happens when a warm-weather vegetable is so great that I can’t pass it by. Last Saturday, the star of the in-season express at Barton Creek Farmer’s Market was green bell pepper. I needed two. I came home with a full bag. How some bell pepper stuffed with mushroom-quinoa?
1 cup quinoa – golden, red, black or mixed
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp EVOO
1 cup broth
4 medium bell peppers
1 chopped red onion
4 cloves diced garlic
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 lb mushrooms
2 finely diced jalapeno peppers
1 cup finely diced carrots
2 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Chipotle Powder
1 tsp Chili Powder
Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning to taste
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
- Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until transparent,
- 8 to 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until softened,
- 4 to 5 minutes more. Add carrots and chopped peppers, cook until just softened,
- then add parsley and spinach (in batches, if needed). Let spinach wilt then stir in cinnamon, cumin and cooked quinoa and toss gently to combine.
- Add salt, pepper and cashews and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Set aside to let filling cool until just warm.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9- x 13-inch baking pan with oil then set aside.
- Divide quinoa mixture evenly among remaining 6 bell peppers, gently packing it down and making sure to fully fill each pepper.
- Top each pepper with its reserved top then arrange them upright in prepared pan.
- Cover snugly with foil and bake, checking halfway through, until peppers are tender and juicy and filling is hot throughout,
- about 1 hour. Transfer to plates and serve.
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