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Peppers, bell, red

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Red bell peppers are sweet, juicy, colorful, and surprisingly nutritious: They are excellent sources of many essential nutrients. By weight, red peppers have three times as much vitamin C as citrus fruit. Moreover, red peppers are quite a good source of beta-carotene, and they offer a good amount of fiber and vitamin B6.

As bell peppers ripen on the vine, most varieties turn red and become sweeter. Bell peppers have no "bite" at all, since they contain a recessive gene that eliminates capsaicin, the substance that makes chili peppers hot. Instead, they have a mild tang (in red peppers, very mild indeed) and a crunchy texture that makes them suitable for eating raw. Their size, shape, and firmness allow them to be stuffed with all types of fillings.

Varieties

The red bell peppers most frequently seen in American markets are plump and blocky with three or four "lobes." Le Rouge Royale, a relatively new hybrid, is an elongated, exceptionally mild red pepper grown in California and Mexico.

Availability

Red bell peppers are on the market all year, but they are somewhat more plentiful--and often considerably cheaper--in the summer. California and Florida produce most of the domestic crop. Rred bell peppers are also imported from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Shopping

Red bell peppers should be well shaped, firm, and glossy, their color a bright crimson. Their skins should be taut and unwrinkled, and their stems fresh and green. Bell peppers are best when they are thick walled and juicy, so they should feel heavy for their size. Watch out for soft or sunken areas, cracks, slashes or black spots.

Storage

Store unwashed peppers in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Check them frequently; if they have developed soft spots, use immediately.

Preparation

Wash peppers just before you use them. Some bell peppers are waxed, and they should be scrubbed well before eating. To cut the peppers into strips or pieces, cut the pepper lengthwise into flat panels. Discard the stems, spongy cores, and bitter-tasting seeds. If you are using the pepper whole, cut the stem end off and then discard the core and seeds. Or, for pepper halves, cut the pepper in half lengthwise, not crosswise.

Pepper skin can be unpleasantly tough in cooked dishes but you can easily peel peppers by blanching or roasting them, as explained below. For most recipes, the various colors of bell peppers are interchangeable but remember that reds and yellows are sweeter than green peppers.

Baking: Cut bell peppers into large chunks and place them in a baking dish (alone or with other vegetables). Bake in a 350°F oven until tender. For baking with a stuffing, choose solid, thick-walled peppers that will hold their shape. Cut off a "lid" (about 1/2" deep) and a thin slice from the bottom of each pepper so that each one will stand without tipping; or, halve each pepper lengthwise to form two "cups." Stuff the peppers and place them snugly in a baking pan. Bake in a 375°F oven until the filling is heated through and the peppers tender. Cooking time: 20 to 25 minutes.

Blanching: Blanched sweet peppers can be used without further cooking as containers for cold salads. Cut off the caps and core the peppers, then blanch them in boiling water. Cooking time: 5 minutes.

Microwaving: For whole stuffed peppers, first microwave the cored pepper shells for 2 minutes to soften them. Precooking ensures that the shells will be done at the same time as the filling. Then fill the peppers and cook until the filling is heated through. Cooking time: 7 to 8 minutes.

Broiling/Grilling: Sweet bell peppers take on a wonderful smoky flavor when charred over a flame; this procedure also allows you to peel the peppers. You can broil or grill pepper pieces (or you can fire-roast whole peppers over an open flame; see below). To prepare peppers for broiling, slice the pepper lengthwise into 4 or 5 panels (this will depend on the shape of the peppers; sometimes they are 4-sided, but sometimes their shape is a little less defined). Discard stem, ribs, and seeds. Lay the pieces on the grill skin-side down, or on a broiler pan skin-side up, and cook about 4" from the heat until the skin is blackened. Place the charred peppers in a bowl, cover with a pot lid or a plate, and let them "sweat" for about 15 minutes; this will loosen the skin. Then scrape off the skin with a small knife under running water. Cooking time: 6 to 10 minutes.

Fire-Roasting: To fire-roast whole peppers, cut a small slit near the stem of each one. Impale each pepper on a long-handled cooking fork and hold over the flame. Place the charred peppers in a bowl, cover with a pot lid or a plate, and let steam for about 15 minutes; this will loosen the skin. Proceed as above. Cut around the stem, pull out the stem and core, and scrape out any remaining seeds. Cooking time: 6 to 10 minutes.

Sauteing: Strips or squares of bell pepper (a mix of colors makes an attractive side dish) can be sauteed in oil or broth. They are good alone or in combination with other vegetables. Cooking time: 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir-frying: Add 1" squares or strips of red bell pepper to Chinese meat or poultry stir-fries, or cook the peppers with broccoli, water chestnuts, green beans, or other vegetables. Cooking time: 4 to 6 minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Red Bell Pepper/1 cup chopped raw

40
Total fat (g)
0.3
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
3
1
Carbohydrate (g)
10
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
3
Beta-carotene (mg)
4.6
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.4
Vitamin C (mg)
283


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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