Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Peppers

Peppers
Price per kg- £3.50 (roughly- around 90p per pepper)

History
The “pepper”, known as the sweet pepper in the UK/Ireland, the “Bell pepper” in  America, and capsicum in India, Australia and New Zealand, is a sweet fleshed fruit originating from Central and South America.  It was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, who named it the “pepper”, despite the fact it has no relation to the black and white “peppercorns” that were already very popular in Europe by then.

Types
Peppers come in various colours, including green, yellow, orange, red, brown, white and purple. The most commonly consumed colours of pepper in the UK are red and green. Usually, peppers are green/ purple in the early stages of ripening- with the exception of a variety known as “Permagreen”, which has been cultivated to be green at all stages of ripening. Green peppers are known to be more bitter, whilst red peppers are usually the sweetest variety. Some red peppers are simply ripened green peppers, or can actually be a completely different variety of capsicum. I have noticed in the shops in the UK the “Ramiro”, which are very sweet, long, pointed peppers- normally red, but have seen yellow and orange ones popping up too. I wouldn’t use Ramiro peppers in cooking, they are so sweet and juicy (and more expensive than normal peppers) so I would normally chuck them in a salad. Another variety in the shops now is the “pardon pepper”, a small Spanish green variety of pepper that is quite bitter- it is traditionally chargrilled/ roasted until the skins are black but the flesh is soft, and sprinkled with salt, which is a popular tapas dish. I’m not sure whether it is more of a chilli rather than a pepper- most are mild, but apparently 1 in every 100 is hot- having consumed so many of them I would agree with that ratio. Another variety which is gaining in popularity is the “seedless pepper”, normally very small, in orange and yellow colours, and as the same suggests, are peppers without seeds. They are also very pricey. I honestly don’t know why people bother with these, they taste the same as normal peppers, and I don’t know anyone so lazy that they can’t be bothered to scrape a few seeds out of a pepper.

Health Benefits
Peppers are high in antioxidants, and also an interesting  fact  is Red peppers contains 9 times the amount of the antioxidant carotene than other peppers. Peppers are low in calories, contain no fat, and 80g counts towards one of your 5 a day. Peppers and also very high in Vitamin A and C.

Nutritional Information (per 100g- raw red pepper)
Calories- 31kcal
Carbohydrates- 6g
(of which sugars)- 4g
Protein- 1g
Vitamin A- 3131IU (63% RDA)
Vitamin C- 128mg (213% RDA!!)

Import/Export
The biggest producer of peppers are China, producing over 14,000,000 tons a year. China is followed by Mexico and Indonesia.

Interesting Pepper facts
The bell or sweet pepper is the only member of the capsicum family to not have any reading on the “scoville” scale, a scale of the “spiciness of food”, as they do not contain a chemical called “capsacin”, which is the chemical in chillies/peppers that give the effect of heat!

Green bell peppers are the most popular variety of pepper consumed in the USA.

It is best to eat peppers as ripe as possible- the riper the pepper (eg dark red or vibrant red peppers) the higher the vitamin a and c content.

Ways we like them
Peppers are used all over the world, and are a fantastically tasty fruit to use in savoury dishes.

A very popular dish in Mexico and the USA are “Fajitas”- traditionally steak, white onions, and peppers of mixed colours, chargrilled, and served with wraps and several other accompaniments (soured cream, guacamole, salsa).

Peppers can be hollowed out and stuffed, with various mixtures- a popular mix includes ground meat (usually beef), vegetables and rice.

Since some people do not like the texture of the skins of peppers, peppers can be chargrilled whole, until the skin is blackened, and then the skin is easily removed, leaving cooked sweet peppers without the skins. These can be bought in jars, stored in olive oil or vinegar, in the world section of supermarkets.

In Italy, there is a popular dish known as “Piedmont peppers”. These are red peppers, stuffed with tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and anchovies, then roasted in the oven. There is also another dish called “pepperonata”, which is a lightly stewed mixture of red and yellow peppers, with garlic, onions, herbs (normally oregano and basil) and tomatoes , normally served as a side dish or a topping.

I have mentioned the Spanish pardon peppers earlier, the Spanish also like serving roasted red peppers cold, topped with diced garlic, sherry vinegar and olive oil (as a tapas dish). Peppers are also a common main ingredient and garnish in “Gazpacho”- a Spanish chilled vegetable soup.

In Chinese cuisine, peppers are commonly used- with green bell peppers being the preferred variety. A well known-chinese dish is “Chicken (or beef) with green peppers and black bean sauce”.

Various colours of peppers are often used in Thai cuisine, when in season, and are often an ingredient added to Thai Curries.

In India, peppers are used in many curry dishes, ones that are particularly well known to us include the Jalfrezi, and the Karahi. In the UK a “bhuna” is often described to include peppers, but it traditionally shouldn’t!  (should just have lots of fresh tomato in it).

There is a middle eastern dish known as “Shahshuka”, which is eggs poached in a tomato, onion and pepper mixture. It is very popular in Egypt and can be seen being cooked by many street vendors.

 In Europe, “tomato and red pepper” is a very popular flavour combination for soups.

I really like peppers, and I think I pretty much love every variety actually. My mum (and Nigella actually) dislike green peppers, stating that they are too bitter. I understand where they are coming from, but I think if green peppers are cooked properly- either roasted and added to dishes, or stir fried in Asian cuisine, then they can be just as delicious as the other colours. I also like mixing very finely diced green peppers with seeded tomatoes, fresh coriander, green chilli, and lime, to make an authentic zingy Mexican salsa!

One of my first ever recipes that I created, and something I still make today, is “couscous and feta stuffed peppers” (recipe of which is on the blog)- roasted peppers, stuffed with fluffy couscous, with loads of fresh basil/basil oil and fresh salty feta- yum!  I also love those chargrilled red peppers in jars- I know they are really expensive but if im treating myself I will buy them. Nice toppings for salads, nice in sandwiches, and I like to put them in pies and tarts too.  Whenever I make a chilli con carne (or a chilli “non” carne, with Quorn for the parents)  I like to add red and yellow peppers- it adds a sweetness to the chilli and the different colours makes it look pretty. Peppers also make a really nice dip- just roast a couple of diced red peppers in olive oil, let them cool, and then blend with some good olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, a little bit of tomato passata and some spices (cumin works well) and you have a delicious dip for toasted pitta breads!

I think the cheapest and easiest way to use peppers in the average weekly meal is to stuff them, because you can mix up a load of old random ingredients from things you have in the cupboard/fridge, and then chuck them into pepper halves that you’ve preroasted in the oven for a bit (to soften up). Put the mix back in the oven to warm up (and if you have any cheese, chuck that on top of the stuffed peppers as well!!) and  bobs your uncle. Stuff the peppers with a mix ideally including a type of starchy food (rice, pasta or couscous) and meat, beans or quorn, and then you’ve got a fully balanced meal (Your carbs, your protein, and 1 of your 5 a day) without having to bother to make any side dishes or anything.

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