Peppers may be a supermarket staple and feature in loads of recipes from salads and stews to enchiladas and crudités platters. While these crunchy, colourful veggies are easy to find, it’s worth knowing how to maximise their health benefits and versatility in cooking.
Taste the rainbow
In season from May through October, the different colours of peppers actually represent varying degrees of ripeness: green peppers are harvested earlier before they have a chance to turn yellow, orange and finally red. Yellow, orange and red peppers are ripe and have a mild, sweet flavour. Green peppers are unripe and have a slightly more bitter taste. All are interchangeable in recipes; it’s simply a matter of personal preference.
Red peppers have almost 11 times more beta-carotene and 1.5 times more vitamin C than green because they spend longer in the sun! Red peppers are also rich in carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin. Numerous studies suggest that regularly eating foods rich in these carotenoids is beneficial to eye health and may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Peppers should be firm, with shiny, unblemished, wrinkle-free skins.
Store unwashed peppers in a resealable bag in the vegetable drawer of your fridge. Keep them dry, as moisture will cause them to rot.
Wash the peppers right before cooking. Cut them open and remove the stems, seeds and white membranes before slicing or chopping as desired. Peppers are delicious raw with a healthy dip, or they can be roasted, stir-fried, stewed, barbecued or cooked into soups or sauces. They are particularly suited to Mexican and Cajun dishes.
Try them in some of our favourite recipes…
Steak picado is a traditional Mexican dish that brings together peppers, onion, garlic and seasoning into a mildly spicy dish. The leftovers are absolute bliss in a burrito or salad.
Looking for a healthy pepper recipe? This hearty, meat-free stuffed pepper dish has a sweet flavour and soft texture when roasted and is a great make-ahead dish that keeps well in the fridge overnight.
Ideal for a lighter dinner option, sweet red and yellow peppers cook with fresh flavours and meaty prawns in this quick-fix dish.
Some extra ideas for cooking with peppers:
Mixed vegetable skewers
Soak 12 wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes. Prepare the vegetables for the skewers. Deseed 8 peppers (a mixture of colours is nice) and chop into 2cm chunks. Peel 4 red onions and chop into thick chunks. Chop 3 courgettes into chunks. In a bowl, whisk together 80ml olive oil, 5 crushed garlic cloves, a handful of chopped fresh parsley, 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary and some salt and black pepper. Set aside. Skewer the vegetables, alternating between different colours of pepper, red onion and courgette. Brush skewers with a light layer of olive oil. Cook on a preheated barbecue or under a hot grill for 6-8 minutes per side, or until softening and browning around the edges. Brush with the garlic and herb oil and serve.
Goats cheese and red pepper tarts
Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7. Unroll 1 x 320g sheet of puff pastry and cut into four equal rectangles. Transfer to a lightly oiled baking tray. Use the tip of a small, sharp knife to score a 1cm border around the edge of each rectangle, being careful not to cut all the way through. Divide 4 tbsp sun-dried tomato pesto amongst the rectangles, spreading it around inside the borders. Drain 1 x 460g jar of roasted red peppers. Cut the peppers into chunks and arrange over the pesto, keeping them within the borders. Cut 200g goat’s cheese into rounds and place over the tops of the tarts. Sprinkle over some fresh thyme leaves and season with salt and black pepper. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the pastry is golden. Serve the tarts warm or at room temperature
Quick romesco sauce
Drain 1 x 340g jar of roasted red peppers. Place in a blender or food processor and add 4 ripe tomatoes, 80g flaked almonds, a small handful of fresh parsley, 4 tbsp olive oil, 2 garlic cloves and the juice of ½ a lemon. Whizz until almost smooth, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature. Romesco sauce is delicious with chicken, fish, prawns, halloumi, poached eggs, crispy potatoes, roasted cauliflower or simply some good bread.