Sweet peppers have no heat but are full of juicy flavors. They come in all shapes and sizes, although most are large compared to the hotter chili peppers.
The more recognized varieties are either long and tapered or rounded. The longer a pepper matures, the sweeter it will become. (Hot peppers, on the other hand, just get hotter.)
Peppers found their way into Spanish cooking, thanks to the travels of Christopher Columbus. Sweet peppers, in particular, have long been a staple in Hungary and The Netherlands.
The most popular types of sweet peppers include:
Bell – more than 100 varieties and is the most popular pepper in the U.S. Most species are green and then turn to yellow, orange, and then red. Some bells, such as the Purple Beauty, are sold when they reach their deep aubergine color. Others may turn brown (chocolate bells) or almost black.
Pimiento – used for stuffing olives and pickled in jars. In powdered form, it is known as paprika. Varieties: “red heart,” “sweet,” and “select.” Can be found at gourmet or health food markets.
Cuban – a fried favorite. Varieties: cubanelle and Key Largo.
Sweet banana – cousin to the much hotter Hungarian Wax pepper.
There are also hundreds of hybrids on the market. Many of these have been developed with thicker skins, high production, and disease resistance. The “bell boy,” “big early,” and “Biscayne” (a cubanelle) are popular names for both commercial and home growers.
Most sweet pepper species are available year-round. They peak from mid-summer to early fall; these will always have the best flavor.
Use the shake test and listen for dried seeds. Skin should be blemish-free and firm. Stems will also be firm and fresh.
Depending on degree of ripeness, refrigerated peppers will be good from a few days to two weeks.
Most sweet peppers can be frozen. Slice or chop and remove seeds and membrane first.
• Sweet peppers can be roasted, grilled, baked, and steamed.
• The larger, firm-walled pods are ideal for stuffing and baking.
• Wash and dry peppers before cutting into them.
• When cooking stuffed bell pepper halves, microwave the skin for a minute or two before filling.
• Saute with other vegetables in oil to provide color and add a sweet kick.
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