BY DEBRA J. MORRIS
Summer peppers are arriving at your farmers’ market this month, everything from mild and sweet bell peppers to wildly spicy Thai chile peppers. The hot summer months are perfect growing weather for these vegetables and we’re glad, because any pepper is a good pepper in our estimation.
A pepper’s heat is measured in Scoville Units. Developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912, Scoville Units measure a pepper’s heat in multiples of 100, with bell peppers at 0 and the habanero at over 300,000 Scoville Units. The substance that makes a pepper hot is called capsaicin and is known for its ability to improve one’s health by increasing blood circulation and metabolism.
Need a mild pepper to stuff with rice and mushrooms? Then the bell pepper is the one to look for. They come in a rainbow of colors from the standard green, red, and yellow to orange, white, and even purple, depending on the variety. Green peppers are pleasantly bitter, while the reds and yellows have a lovely sweetness to them. Other mild peppers include the Italian and Marconi varieties which are long narrow peppers, green in color, and have mildly sweet flavor. They’re good for roasting and for stuffing as well.
Want something with a bit more kick to it? Try the poblano pepper. It has just a touch of heat. Fill with cheese and make some chiles rellenos. Toss on the grill and add to side dishes. Poblanos get fairly large, about 5 inches long, and are usually sold fresh while they are young and dark green. At their red, mature stage they are usually dried (called ancho chiles).
The spicy little jalapeño pepper is probably the best known hot pepper, widely used for stuffing, adding to salsas, and chopping into dishes that require heat. It is hot and spicy, but not so overwhelming that you’ll suffer through it. Harvested at both green and red stages, the jalapeño is spicy but easy to seed and devein if you wish to remove some of the heat. When dried and smoked, it’s called a chipotle chile.
Now we get to some seriously hot peppers. From the serrano to the habanero to the Thai chile peppers, these can get so hot that you’ll be invoking the gods! Habaneros and serranos add a lot of heat to cooking. They should be used judiciously. You’ll find different colors, ranging from red to white-yellow and even brown, but orange is the most common. They’re great for salsa, hot sauces, or a fiery jerk chicken. Thai peppers add serious amounts of heat to Southeast Asian cuisines. You may find either green or red Thai chiles; both are very spicy.
Whatever mood you’re in, you’ll find the right pepper at your farmers’ market. Check out Hall’s Organic Farm from Spreckels. They have every pepper you can imagine, from bells to poblanos and habaneros. Visit J&M Farms for organic bells, Italian sweets, and jalapeños. These farmers grown what they sell and they bring you only the best, so stop by and collect your peppers for good summer eating!