Fresh At the Farmers’ Market: Pick a Pack of Bell Peppers

Sweet bell peppers always seem to be around–and to some degree, they are. You can find them at the supermarket year-round. But this is their peak season, when they ripen in home gardens and flood farmers’ market stands.

With their iconic bell shape and primary hues ranging from green to red, yellow, and orange (you’ll even find shades of purple), these peppers are the workhorses of the kitchen. We reach for them whenever we want to add a little crunch to a slaw or a dash of color to a stir-fry.

I confess that while I appreciate their sunny palette, mild flavor, and lovely texture, I usually make bells play second fiddle to the fiery glamour of their hot chile pepper cousins. That’s too bad, because they deserve the spotlight. Bell peppers certainly pack an impressive nutritional punch. A red bell has nearly twice as much vitamin C as a navel orange; orange and yellow peppers have even more.

Choosing

As with any produce, you want bell peppers that are brightly colored, unblemished, and firm with thick flesh. Green bell peppers are, basically, unripened versions and taste less sweet (some say, bitter) than red, orange, or yellow peppers. Which variety to use depends on what you want in terms of flavor and color.

Using

You can recruit bell peppers to add a background note to all manner of dishes or make them the star attraction (they’ll enjoy the spotlight). Some ideas:

  • An aromatic base: Just as mirepoix (chopped onion, carrot, and celery) is the basis of many French dishes, Louisiana cooks rely on their “trinity” of green bell peppers, celery, and onion as a key ingredient in Cajun and Creole dishes like gumbo and jambalaya.  A version of Italian soffrito calls for sauteing minced green bell pepper, celery, onion, and garlic in olive oil as the first step in many recipes.
  • As a vessel: Stuffed peppers are a standby dinner in many households. Just cut off the top, discard the seeds and stems, and stuff them with a filling (a combo of browned lean ground beef and cooked brown rice or quinoa would work; so would our Easy Rice Pilaf). Bake your stuffed peppers at 350 F for about 15 minutes.
  • In a hot dish: Sure, temperatures are soaring now, but cooler evenings aren’t far off. Bell peppers play very nicely in cozy chilis and curries, like Kurt’s Iowa City Chili and Lia’s Pumpkin Curry.
  • In a sauce or side: To try bell peppers paired with deliciously complex Aztec flavors, make Lia’s Grilled Onions with Chile-Nut Puree. Our Sweet Pepper Confit shows off a variety of red, yellow, and orange peppers cooked over low heat until they’re meltingly tender for a condiment that works as well on sandwiches as it does sausages.

My version of Spanish romesco sauce here puts roasted red bell peppers front and center in a versatile sauce that’s starring in lots of meals at our house this week–pasta, pizza, a dipper for grilled shrimp … give it a try and let us know how you end up using it.

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3 Replies to “Fresh At the Farmers’ Market: Pick a Pack of Bell Peppers”

  1. What can I substitute for sherry vinegar and can I use diced frozen/canned tomatoes in place of fresh? MN farmer markets have yet to see our first fresh tomatoes. Maybe this next week!

  2. Julie, you can use red wine vinegar in place of sherry vinegar. And, in many cases, I’d say canned tomatoes would work fine as a sub. But with this one I’d stick with waiting (I know it’s hard! We have hundreds on the vines in our garden that are still green!) for the fresh. Enjoy!

  3. It is September 2 and our tomatoes are still green . . . . . I stopped in Dairyville yesterday (at sea level) and bought a bunch of tomatoes at a roadside stand. $2.00 a pound, which is still better than the store. I’ve noticed that these roadside stands are usually higher priced than the store – which I find odd. This sauce looks wonderful – I’ll give it a try. Thanks.

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