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Try the rainbow of color and heat in peppers

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

A green bell pepper is probably a familiar sight in your house. You use it in salad, on pizza, to make spaghetti sauce, and occasionally, to stuff.

But the world of peppers is vast and varied, and you can choose from sweet to incendiary. When red and yellow peppers started showing up in stores, we found a new taste — sweeter, juicier, a pronounced flavor.

Most red and yellow bell peppers are simply ripened green peppers. If green peppers give you indigestion, the red or yellow pepper might be easier for you to digest, and it has more vitamin C.

Add a little more kick and vary your pepper palate with other peppers that can find locally, like the banana pepper or the trendy Shishito pepper.

The banana pepper is easy to grow and use. Most of the time, it is mild, but if grown near hotter peppers such as jalapeño, they can get spicy. Even a random banana pepper in the crop could get hot.

They are great for tossing in salads, on top of pizza and into pasta dishes, even macaroni and cheese. Stir a little into your scrambled eggs for a bright change.

You can buy pickled banana peppers or pickle them yourself. If planning to keep them for an extended period, they will require the proper canning method. For a quick, fresh pickle, add white vinegar, water and a pinch of sugar to a container with sliced banana peppers and allow to sit overnight. Use the peppers within a week. They are great on tacos, burgers and even hot dogs.

You can also stuff banana peppers as you would a bell pepper. Or serve chicken salad in a banana pepper. Of just stuff them with cheese, secure with a toothpick and bake until cheese melts.

Halve a banana pepper, stuff with cream cheese and bake with a slice of bacon wrapped around it, at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until bacon cooks.

Banana peppers are a nice addition to a fresh salsa, if you don’t want too much heat.

Shishito peppers originated in Japan, and have become a popular snack here, but they also work in salsas, pizzas, pasta and salads. They have the slightest kick. The trendy way to enjoy them is by blistering them in a cast iron skillet with just a little oil. Cook until the peppers char in spots and split. Remove from pan, sprinkle with salt and serve warm. They’re also good with a sprinkle of lemon juice.

Use them in stir fries, too.

Chop up banana or Shishito papers in a small dice and add to salad dressings. Adding peppers to a ranch dressing will really wake it up and give it fresh flavor.

Cubanelles are fun to stuff, too. They are about as long as your hand. Try them with chorizo — you won’t need to add much to the spicy sausage, maybe some fresh corn or a little chopped tomato. Top with dry and salty cotija cheese, which is a bit milder than feta.

Cubanelles can be used the same way you use banana peppers. The thin flesh cooks quickly, so if you stuff them, you won’t have to roast them first.

Habanero, Scotch bonnet and Carolina Reaper peppers are a whole other story because they will blow your head off — or could even stop your breathing. In 2013, Guinness World Records declared the Carolina Reaper the world’s hottest pepper. Other super hot peppers include the scorpion pepper and the ghost pepper. We won’t go there today.

Marinated Bell Peppers

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 yellow or orange bell pepper

1 1/2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the peppers in the oven directly on the rack. Roast for about 15 minutes, turning as needed until the skin is well scorched. Immediately place in a bowl covered with plastic, or in a paper bag and allow to cool.

Remove the skins from the peppers by rubbing them with your hands or a paper towel. Cut in half, remove stem and seeds and cut into strips.

Place peppers in a bowl and stir in garlic, vinegar, oil, basil, parsley and salt and pepper and let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Add 1 tsp. fresh thyme to the marinade if you like.

Summer Stuffed Bell Peppers

3 bell peppers, any color, halved, seeds removed

1 pound ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, grated

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 yellow squash, chopped

1 1/2 cups baby spinach

1 cup fresh (or frozen) corn kernels

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper or more, to taste

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 cup vegetable broth

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and arrange the cut peppers in the dish. Roast peppers about 30 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet and cook onions until softened, 5-10 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Cook about 1 minute more. Stir in ground beef and sauté 5-10 minutes. Add squash, corn and baby spinach. If the mixture looks dry, add a little water or vegetable broth. Fill pepper and pour 1/2 cup broth into the pan. Cover with foil and cook 30 minutes. Remove foil and add cheese and cook 15-20 more minutes. Serve with a green salad.

Variations: Use ground turkey and include 1 tsp. poultry seasoning.

For a vegetarian option, used two cans of rinsed and drained black beans in place of meat.

Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup with Zucchini and Corn

2 pounds fresh tomatoes, cut in half

2-3 red bell peppers, cut in half, seeds and stems removed

1 medium large yellow onion, sliced

1 Tbsp. butter

1 large zucchini sliced and quartered

3 cups fresh corn, (about 4 ears)

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeño pepper, diced

1 tsp. dried thyme

1/2 tsp. sweet paprika

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 Tbsp. sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place tomatoes, cut side down, and onions on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the peppers on another baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and roast both in the oven until the skin is wrinkled and charred, 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add zucchini and corn and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeño, salt, thyme and paprika and let cook another minute. Add the chicken stock and sugar and bring to a simmer.

When the vegetables are roasted, let the peppers sit a few minutes to cool. Peel the pepper skin and discard it. Place the peppers, onions and tomato in a blender and blend until smooth. Add this to the stock pot and simmer 10 more minutes.

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