I’m a chili pepper evangelist.
Chile peppers grow in nearly every climate. Chances are your CSA, co-op grocery, or farmer’s market is over run with peppers of all varieties. Peppers are a delicious and nutritious family of veggies if only you knew what they were! Here is a guide to picking the perfect pepper for your family.
If you are concerned about spice, always remove the pith (the white fleshy part inside) and the seeds. Wear examination gloves when cooking with very hot peppers to protect your hands. Capsaicin is an oil and spreads very easily. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or other mucous membranes while handling peppers.
This bright, spring green chile is mild and tangy. The ripest cubanella chiles are bright and even-colored and measure between 5-7 inches long and about 1 inch in diameter. This is a perfect chile for eating raw in salsas and salads. It works well with chimichurris and other salty relish-type dishes. It pairs well with shrimp, firm white fish, chicken, and sweeter cuts of pork.
These chiles are often found dried. They are typically 4 inches long and spade shaped. At their peak flavor they are a deep rusty red-brown. The red hugh begins to fade after prolonged storage, as does the flavor. They are mildly smoky in flavor and can have undertones from sweet to medium heat. These chiles are fabulous ground into dips, sauces, soups, and marinades. They make an excellent addition to white bean hummus, enchilada sauce, mole sauce, baked and roasted chicken dishes, and steak marinades.
The original North American pepper is the pablano. With double the heat of a bell pepper and a thousand times the flavor, this chile is perfect in fajitas, pasta tosses, salsas, and salads. Young and firm peppers are best. Spiciness can develop with age so always remove the seeds and pith. Pablano peppers are a deep green and spade shaped. They make excellent stuffing peppers and pair well with cheeses, chicken, ground meats, and egg dishes.
These common sweet peppers come in green, yellow, orange, and red. They are all from the same plant, simply picked at different levels of ripeness. They have thick hardy flesh that works well for stuffing, sautés, salads, and most cooking methods.
Quality jalapeños are a fabulous addition to cooking. Chose peppers about the size and shape of your thumb that have a deep green color that is even throughout. Fresh peppers are ideal for salsa and salads. Pickled peppers are common in the Hispanic foods section of your grocery. Pickle your own peppers in brine made from white and red wine vinegars, sugar, salt, and crushed garlic.
Smoked jalapeño peppers, called chipotle peppers, can be found in cans or dried. The canned variety is often soaked in adobo sauce, a tangy brown sauce flavored with garlic and onions. Smoking intensifies the heat and imparts some of the heat from the seeds into the flesh. These peppers should have the seeds removed before adding to dishes. The dried variety can be reconstituted with water on the stove top just as with dried fruits. The smoky flavor pairs well with dairy flavors, fruits, and cooked foods.
One of the hottest peppers, the habanero, is a culinary curiosity to many. They are easily grown in a garden or patio containers. The chiles are bell shaped and about the size of cherry tomatoes. They ripen to yellow-orange to red. The seeds are extremely hot. These peppers should be handled with gloves when cutting or preparing for dishes. These chiles are for use as a condiment and are well paired with fruits for salsas. Pepper jelly made from these peppers is fabulous over cream cheese as a quick dip.
Another of the hottest peppers, the scotch bonnet pepper is related to the habanero family. These peppers look very similar but have unique flavors. Scotch bonnets are often used in island cooking such as jerk seasoning. This pepper can develop a heat index of up to 350,000 Scoville units compared to the jalapeño’s average of a mere 5,000 Scoville units.