Go and stuff a pepper!

Stuffed peppers are a favorite dish for many people, even pepper haters usually surrender in front of a beautifully stuffed bell pepper.

If my children had any say in the matter, they would declare the bell pepper a decoration and not something that should be eaten. The look on their faces are of a precious disgust when they see me bring in an armload of these rainbow colored, three or four lobed, sweet peppers.  For now, what they don’t see they are eating, won’t make them gag. It will take time for them to appreciate these marvels, this perfection of edible protection against free radicals.

Free radicals, I have used that word before. Many vegetables have wonderful health benefits, something I can not help but to repeat myself on. In an age where we have all these different choices on what types of foods we have available, only the most primitive, unrefined food stuff is actually in our favor. The bell, or sweet pepper is one such agent.

Brightly colored bell peppers, whether they are green, red, orange or yellow, purple, brown or black, are rich sources of some of the best nutrients available. Bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C and vitamin A,  two very powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants work together to effectively neutralize free radicals. Those free radicals can travel through the body causing damage to your cells. Free radicals are major contributors in the build up of cholesterol in the arteries.  Bell peppers may help prevent or reduce some of the symptoms of many cholesterol induced conditions by destroying the source of the problem

Red peppers are one of the few foods that contain lycopene. Recent studies suggest that individuals whose diets are low in lycopene-rich foods are at greater risk for developing prostate cancer and cancers of the cervix, bladder and pancreas. If you are worried about colon cancer, the fiber found in peppers can help reduce the amount of contact that colon cells have with cancer-causing toxins found in certain foods or produced by certain gut bacteria. Consumption of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folic acid is associated with a significantly reduced risk of colon cancer. Beta-cryptoxanthin, yet another benefit of eating red bell peppers, may significantly lower one's risk of developing lung cancer.

Bell peppers are also part of the nightshade family, just don’t tell my children, they might use it a an argument against eating them. The sweet pepper is traditionally viewed as being plump and bell shaped, featuring three or four lobes. There are some, like the Sweet Banana pepper, that is tapered with no distinguishing lobes. Sweet peppers will come in a variety of sizes, and have a splendiferous, albeit watery texture. Color of the pepper can also give you a hint of their taste. While the green and purple ones are a tad bitter, the red, orange and yellows are sweeter. Unfortunately my children have claimed color blindness. I have yet to inform them that both pimento and paprika are made with red bell peppers.

Bell peppers originated in South America and carried throughout the world by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Because this plant is very adaptable to all kinds of weather conditions -except freeze- they became known as a very versatile food. Soon they were cultivated and adopted into varying cuisines. One such cuisine, that is very popular, is the stuffed pepper.

Stuffing a Bell Pepper with any leftover or creative purpose has been around a very long time. No one is certain who decided that such a feast would be a ambrosian idea. Even my pepper loathing children will quiet their rants, if only for a mouthful or two, when a Bell pepper stuffed their favorites is placed before them. Hamburger stuffed green peppers seems to quiet them the most. But for the adults, a beef and barley stuffed bell pepper keeps their mouths busy. There are many recipes out there for stuffing your peppers with. I recommend the seafood stuffed Pepper or even a stuffed pepper soup, this recipe is more of a reminiscent taste of the stuffed peeper, rather then actually shoving other foods into them. If you are a vegan or on a dairy free or gluten free diet, try the quinoa stuffed peppers recipe. And for the diabetics, I have a tomato with green chillies stuffed pepper recipe.

All these stuffed pepper recipes are simple and breathtakingly beautiful in their presentation as long as you know how to select your peppers. You want to choose peppers that have deep and vivid colors. The skins should be taunt, free of blemishes, soft spots and darkened areas. Generally peppers should be heftier then they look, and firm enough that they will only gently yield to the slightest pressure. Caving and cracking means a bad pepper. If you are choosing to eat seasonally, peppers are in abundance in the mid summer to early fall, before the first hard frost of your area.

Now that we have picked out the pepper and have managed to smuggle it into the house without a word, gag or any conniving to destroy the pepper coming from the children, we need to store them properly. Do not wash them before storing in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator. They will keep just fine in there for up to one week. Or we can preserve the peppers by freezing them, without blanching. Keep them whole if you do decide to freeze, as this will decrease the exposure to the air which can degrade both their nutrient content and their flavor.

You have now managed to store your peppers safely without allowing my children to get to them. Congratulations are in order. Stuffed bell peppers for everyone! But first we have to get through prepping them, the peppers not the children, without destroying them in the process. Before you start coring, wash the pepper carefully under running water. If the pepper as been waxed, or you think it has, and in some cases, just in case it has been waxed, you should scrub them very well. However heed the warning that you should not scrub them too hard. Our goal here is a whole stuffed pepper.

Now use a thin, short and very sharp knife to cut around the stem at the top of the pepper, about ½ inch away from the stem, and gently remove it. You can cut the sweet peppers into just about any shape or size. Dice, chop or cut into strips. But for our purpose we will leave them whole. Just remember to remove those bitter tasting seeds, this is done carefully, washing the interior of the pepper can be a great help. Place peppers cut side down on a drain board to dry.

Place them back into the refrigerator and pick your recipe. Follow the directions closely, you can tweak ingredients later, once you have figured it all out. When baking, be sure to check for tenderness, peppers are done when there is a slight give to the flesh of the pepper, remove before the skin is soft. And don’t worry, I will keep my children at home, where they can feast on their This isn’t Really A Bell Pepper dinner.

There are sweet bell peppers and hot jalapeño peppers.

Erin M. Phelan combines cooking, writing and talking about food with her love for the countryside. She has been a modern homesteader and raised her own organic food when Erin was living in a lovely farm in Kansas, with her husband and young children. You can read about her adventures in her blog, A Homesteading Neophyte; her recipes have been published regularly at All Foods Natural and World Food and Wine, among others.