Did you know peppers are actually fruits? Most people think of them as vegetables, but they are fruits because they are produced from a flowering plant and contain seeds.
Raw peppers have three times the vitamin C as oranges, and red bell peppers have more than twice the vitamin C of a green pepper. Red bell peppers are sweeter than green ones because bell peppers sweeten as they ripen. In other words, green ones are picked earlier than the reds.
This time of year, I cook seasonally, seeing what is super fresh and colorful, then finding and creating recipes from there.
And peppers are certainly in season.
Last month, the Joplin Empire Market celebrated peppers in various ways: a salsa contest, a roasting demonstration, create your own pepper drawings, etc. So much fun.
I stopped by the Oakwoods Farm booth and picked up three types of peppers for the following recipes: bell, Anaheim and dragon toes. Yes, dragon toes — they are stumpy, wrinkly and thin-skinned. So bizarre!
Check out the Scoville Heat Scale online. It tells you how hot peppers are in relation to each other. For instance, bells clock in at zero, Anaheims at 500-1000, jalapenos at 2500-8000 and the orange habanero at 150,000-325,000 units. And they just get hotter.
My challenge was to create recipes that highlighted the peppers. Following are three types of recipes: a classic American favorite, a zippy Spanish sauce, and a tried and true Asian staple. Feel free to change out the peppers to ones you and your family really enjoy.
Classic cheesy peppers
4 long peppers, banana, Anaheim or jalapeno
4 ounces soft cream cheese
1 scallion, chopped
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Worcestershire or balsamic vinegar
Dash garlic salt
Dash onion powder
Dash kosher salt
Cut peppers lengthwise, stem to tip. Pull out veins and seeds. Use gloves if it is a hot pepper, and do not touch your face.
Combine cream cheese, scallion, sour cream, garlic salt, onion powder and salt in a small bowl and mix with a fork. Spoon mixture into each pepper half, filling to just below the edge. Mix bread crumbs, olive oil and dash of salt in another small bowl. Spoon the bread crumb mixture onto the stuffed peppers.
If grilling, spray grill pan or grill rack with cooking spray, place peppers on grill, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes until the bottoms have a nice char. If baking, heat oven to 400 degrees and place peppers on a baking sheet. Tip: Put aluminum foil under the peppers because it helps with easy clean up. Bake in oven for 7 to 8 minutes until cheese is melty and bread crumbs are toasty. Use as an appetizer in a spread of small plates, or as a side dish to grilled chicken or steak.
Romesco is a Spanish sauce, used to top chicken, steak, pork, potatoes, or vegetables. It can also be used as a dip with flatbread, pita, or crackers.
16-ounce jar roasted red peppers or 4 roasted fresh peppers (see below)
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Toast slivered almonds in a skillet until you can smell them, just a few minutes, stirring occasionally. They will burn quickly, so watch and smell closely!
Smash and peel garlic cloves. Place all ingredients in a food processor for a chunky version; place in a blender for a smoother version.
To roast fresh peppers: Heat oven to 500 degrees. Place peppers on a baking sheet. Roast peppers for 30-40 minutes, turning three times, until peppers are super soft and charred. Take out of oven and cover loosely with foil. Let cool.
Once cooled, take off tops and pull out all veins and seeds. Try to get as much peel off as possible. They should be falling apart.
Stir fry peppers and onions
1 white onion, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, 3 Anaheim or banana peppers, or 5 dragon toes, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons sesame oil or vegetable oil
Slice onions and mince garlic cloves. Heat oil in a wok or deep skillet. Cook on medium high heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until onions are translucent, stirring often with a wooden spoon or fork. Add garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute. Slide onto dish or into bowl and sprinkle lightly with black or white sesame seeds.
Serve as a side dish to Asian-marinated chicken, steak, pork or tofu, or use to top noodles.
Josie Mai is a culinary artist and in-home chef. See her on Facebook and Instagram as Josie Mai Personal Chef or at josiemai.com.