Pep up your meals with fresh peppers
Put those peppers from your local farmers market to good use in these recipes
Though fall is often thought of as apple season, it's also pepper season — a time of year when you'll find dozens of varieties of brightly coloured peppers with a range of heat levels at markets across the city (and country).
Like those piles of winter squash, peppers often have unfamiliar names, and one variety might be called something different depending on where you find them. The key is knowing their heat level. All peppers are capsicums, but some are hot, some are not.
Most grocery stores carry the usual green-yellow-red bell peppers, and then jalapeños and perhaps birds' eye chilies, and it's easy to tell which is which.
But at farmers markets, you'll find a far broader selection: bell peppers (which have no heat) in a wider range of colours, and perhaps deep red pimentos, sweet banana or Shepard peppers, horn peppers, hot cherry or apple peppers, shishitos and scotch bonnets. All are at their peak, and as inexpensive as they'll get all year.
So, what do you do with them? Peppers are utilized in every cuisine around the world, so it depends what you cook.
Fresh peppers, particularly the sweet meaty ones, can be chopped and frozen, or roasted, which intensifies and condenses them.
You can roast them whole, or cut in half and pull out the seeds, then place cut side down on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet, and broil or roast at high heat until the skin blisters.
Then transfer to a bowl, cover with a plate and let cool. The flesh should continue to steam a bit as they cool, and you can then slip off the skins with your fingers. (Make sure you wear thin gloves when handling hot peppers.)
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A pile of fresh peppers is easily transformed into all kinds of dishes.
There are stews around the world in which peppers are slowly stewed in a pot with onions and garlic, often tomatoes, which are in season at the same time, and herbs or spices depending on where you are in the world.
French pipérade is typically made with green bell peppers and small red piment d'Espelette; Italian peperonata is simple but often finished with red wine or balsamic vinegar; Hungarian lecso is heavily spiked with paprika; and shakshuka, which originated in North Africa and is popular throughout the Mediterranean, is often spiced with cumin and harissa, an intensely flavoured chili pepper paste.
All keep well in the fridge for several days, and freeze very well, having already broken down in the pot. (If you're making shakshuka, rewarm the stew and poach the eggs in it when you're ready to eat.)
A pot of stewed peppers has plenty of names. This is a simple version, essentially an Italian peperonata (if you add a spoonful of paprika, you could call it lecso), that easily cooks down into a delicious, sludgy compote as the peppers release their juices into the pot.
Roughly chop any variety of peppers, on the sweet side — as many as you like, really, adding garlic according to your taste.
I like to make sure some of the peppers are finely chopped, some in bigger chunks or slivers, so as they break down you get a variety of textures. Add some chopped zucchini and eggplant, too, and you have ratatouille.
- canola or olive oil, for cooking
- 1 onion, chopped or thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3-6 sweet peppers, seeded, cored and chopped
- 2-3 tomatoes, chopped
- fresh thyme
- red wine or balsamic vinegar (optional)
Set a large pot or deep skillet over medium heat, add a generous pour of oil and cook the onion, sprinkling with salt, for a few minutes until soft.
Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
Add the peppers and tomatoes to the pot, add a generous sprinkle of salt and cook, turning the heat down to medium-low and stirring often, until the peppers and tomatoes break down and get soft and sludgy, pulling the leaves off a sprig or two of thyme and adding them to the pot at some point.
If you like, finish it with a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar.
- Listen to Julie Van Rosendaal's full interview on the Calgary Eyeopener about fall harvest.
Roasted Peppers with Tomatoes, Olives & Capers
These roasted peppers stuffed with chopped tomatoes, olives, capers and za'atar comes from a cookbook called Zaitoun (the Arabic word for olive), written by food writer and human rights campaigner Yasmin Khan. It focuses on Palestinian cuisine.
I tweaked the recipe a bit, drained some of the liquid from my juicy tomatoes and crumbled some goat cheese into the pepper halves first.
Stuffed peppers are so versatile, you could add just about anything to the filling before stuffing it in. Rice is common, or other grains, cheeses or cooked crumbled meat.
- 4 medium bell or other sweet peppers, halved and cored
- 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
- ¼ cup pitted olives, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp capers (without the brine)
- 1 tbsp za'atar
- 1-2 tbsp apple cider or red wine vinegar
- olive or canola oil
- 1/3 cup(ish) crumbled goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 F and place the pepper halves cut side up on a parchment-lined sheet.
Roughly chop the tomatoes (if they're juicy, you could drain away any excess juices here), olives and capers, and combine in a bowl with the za'atar, vinegar, a big pinch of salt and a drizzle (a couple tablespoons) of olive or canola oil.
Crumble some goat cheese into the bottom of each pepper, and top with the tomato mixture.
Cover with foil and roast for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and roast for another 20, until soft and starting to char on the edges.