Peppers in the Kitchen

Chili peppers can be used fresh or preserved. This page discusses using fresh peppers and includes a homemade salsa recipe. Read about pickling and drying peppers and uses for preserved peppers.

Stuffed Peppers

Whether they’re sweet bells, mini pimentos, or spicy serranos, stuffed peppers make delicious appetizers or even main courses. Stuffed peppers can be made vegan, ovo-lacto vegetarian or with meat. They can be stuffed with rice, eggplant, pork, beef, cheese or pretty much anything that suits your fancy.

To make stuffed peppers remove the tops of the peppers, scoop out the seeds and wash well. Stuff with your choice of ingredients. Rice or breadcrumbs are often used in combination with other ingredients. Place upright in a baking dish with 1/2 inch of water in the bottom. Cover and bake at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 30 minutes. The tops can be dusted lightly with paprika when done to add color. (See Preserving Peppers to learn how to dry paprika peppers to make your own powder.)

Roasted Peppers

Roasted peppers are very simple to make and can be used to add flavor to spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, salad dressings, and so much more. Before roasting, remove the tops and seeds. The peppers can be sliced or left whole. Roast the peppers in a 500 °F (260 °C) oven until the skin turns black and begins to blister. Remove and cover with plastic wrap or place in a paper bag. The steam will help soften the skin so that when the roasted peppers are cool it will slide off easily.

Salsa

Salsa can be made with sweet peppers, hot chilies, even fruit. The basic ingredients in most homemade salsa recipes are tomatoes, onions and peppers. Cilantro, black beans and garlic are other common ingredients. Make the homemade salsa recipe here as an appetizer with chips or mini warmed flour tortillas, or to accompany a meal. A cool salsa is a perfect balance to hot enchiladas.

Easy Homemade Salsa Recipe

  • 1 medium tomato, seeded, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. red onion, diced
  • 1½ tsp. jalapeno peppers, seeded, minced
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1½ tsp. olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. (Makes about 1½ cups salsa.)

Diabetic Exchange: c cup = 1 vegetable

Chili peppers, like all other fruits and vegetables, are at their very best right after picking. Refrigeration will delay spoilage only for a few days. Preserving through pickling, drying or freezing extends their shelf life so you can enjoy your delicious peppers year-round.

Pickling Peppers

Some of the best chili peppers for pickling and making relishes are the jalapeno, Bermuda hot, pepperoncini, sweet banana, and cherry peppers. Pickled peppers can be eaten “fresh” from the jar on salads, nachos, burgers, and sandwiches or can be used to spice up meatloaf and cornbread.

Pickling destroys molds, yeasts, and bacteria that cause peppers to decompose. Using sterilized containers that seal prevents recontamination of the peppers after pickling. Homemade pickled peppers should be stored in the refrigerator.

Pickled Pepper Pointers

  • Use only fresh, unblemished peppers.
  • Use only unchipped enamel, aluminum, stainless steel or glass pans to heat vinegar—vinegar will react with brass, copper and iron resulting in an off taste to the peppers.
  • Sterilize with fresh boiling water glass jars and lids.
  • Jelly jars—the type with a rubber gasket—are the best type to use for pickling. If the only containers available have metal lids use squares of wax paper as a barrier between the lid and the vinegar to prevent corrosion.
  • Use cooking salt rather than table salt, as table salt, due to its higher iodine content, can cause the peppers to discolor.
  • If you choose to add spices, use only whole varieties; powdered forms will cloud the solution. Popular spices include peppercorns, chopped or whole cloves of garlic, rosemary, celery seeds, coriander seeds, and bay leaves.
  • Color can be added to an otherwise monotone mixture by adding whole baby carrots.
  • Pickled peppers are best when allowed to mature about 2 weeks.

Making Pickled Peppers

  • Follow this simple recipe to make your own pickled peppers.
  • 1 to 1˝ lb. fresh chili peppers
  • Ľ cup salt
  • 1 to 2 heads garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
  • 1 lb. baby carrots
  • White vinegar

Sterilize pickling jars and set aside. Wash chili peppers and carrots well. Puncture each pepper to prevent collapse. Bring vinegar to a boil and add carrots. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chilies, garlic, and salt. Simmer 5 minutes for crisp peppers, 10 minutes for soft peppers. Transfer vegetables to sterilized jars with a sterilized slotted spoon, leaving about ˝ inch at the top. Top off with still simmering vinegar mixture. Place lids on the jars, but do not seal. Allow cooling for 1 hour. Tighten lids and refrigerate.

Drying Peppers

Dried peppers are handy for adding spice to sauces, soups, stews and chilis. One of the best things about cooking with dried peppers is that it is easy to control the heat of the dish: when it’s spicy enough simply fish out the pepper!

You can dry your peppers in one of several ways: ristras, rack drying, dehydrator, or oven drying. Always use fresh, firm, unblemished peppers for drying. If air-drying, ensure that the racks or ristras are placed in an area that is dry and has good air circulation.

Ristras are the strands of dried peppers that hang in many southwestern kitchens. They can be made from red, green or yellow chilies or any combination of these. To make a simple ristra use a needle to thread the stem of each chili pepper so that the chilies form a spiral, then hang from the ceiling. Chilies drying in ristras or on racks may take several weeks to dry completely. While using a dehydrator or oven is definitely faster, the chilies don’t retain the bright color seen in chili peppers that are air-dried.

Using Dried Peppers

Dried chili peppers can be dry pan roasted prior to being added to sauces for a nuttier flavor. Dry roasted peppers are especially delicious in enchilada sauce. Peppers can be rehydrated by soaking in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes and used to spice up stews and sauces. Dried peppers can be ground into chili powder using a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.
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Freezing Peppers

When freezing peppers plan ahead. How do you think you’ll be using them in the future? Will they be used in something “fresh” like in salads, fajitas or tacos? Or will you use them to flavor something cooked, like your favorite chili recipe? Follow these steps to freeze peppers for later use:

  • Wash peppers well, selecting only those that are blemish-free and firm.
  • Cut out the stems and remove the seeds.
  • Blanch them quickly in rapidly boiling water if you plan to use them in cooked foods. [Skip the blanching if you want them fresh.]
  • Pat dry with paper towels or other clean absorbent cloth.
  • Pack into containers or zipper-seal bags, removing the air before sealing.
  • Freeze.

You can even freeze salsa! Just make sure to drain the liquid before you do. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a layer of ice on the salsa.