On Saturdays, our neighborhood gang would head down to VanWay’s market to buy candy. They’d head for the Gobstoppers and Hot Zotz, but I’d always meander into produce and buy a …
On Saturdays, our neighborhood gang would head down to VanWay’s market to buy candy. They’d head for the Gobstoppers and Hot Zotz, but I’d always meander into produce and buy a green pepper. I wasn’t health conscious, but the crisp crunch was more appealing.
At 13, as a summer usher at The Britt Music Festival in my hometown of Jacksonville, Oregon, our neighbor, a jazz pianist, brought Count Basie and Dave Brubeck in for a concert.
The music was splendid, but it was at the reception that I had a sea change. Standing at the long table filled with fancy hors d’oeuvre, the likes of which I’d never encountered, I picked up a red vegetable cut into a stick and tasted it. It was sweet like candy and crunchy, but I couldn’t place the flavor, a completely unfamiliar taste but so magic. Only much later did I realize that green peppers, if allowed to ripen, turn red.
Since then, my favorite treat is always the biggest sweet red pepper I can find. This time of year I pay homage to them, the long Italians, pimentos, cherries, and bells in all their range of colors. Did you know we can grow ripe sweet peppers here, with some forethought and protection? There are wonderful varieties suited for our climate, like Carmen, a sweet and productive red Italian pepper, and Jimmy Nardello, a super sweet frying pepper, which is a favorite of both cooks and gardeners.
Besides eating sweet peppers raw, and adding them to every imaginable dish, I like to make pastes, refrigerator pickles, and roasted spreads.
This is a popular and seasonal way to preserve a bounty of peppers in the Mediterranean, but you can still enjoy the heightened flavors using three large sweet red peppers, one small hot pepper, ½ teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil.
Chop the peppers and roast until soft and sweet, about 30 minutes at 425 F, or another simple approach is to use an air fryer at 400F for 5 to 7 minutes. Puree the peppers with a little liquid or more olive oil and add apple cider vinegar to taste. Refrigerate and use within a few days.
Small batch refrigerator pickles are easy to make without the time or equipment involved in canning, and fabulous to pull out and share. All you need to make a couple of quarts is two pounds of sweet peppers, with a few mildly hot ones added, herbs and spices like garlic, basil, parsley, bay, and peppercorns.
Tuck these into your jars with three cups of water, one and a half cups raw apple cider vinegar, and two and a half teaspoons fine grained sea salt. Store in the fridge with a non-reactive lid and allow them to develop for a week.
“The Joy of Pickling” by Linda Ziedrich. This is definitely my favorite pickling book because she knows her pickles. The diversity of methods, ethnic varieties, and types of produce used in her recipes is fabulous.
“The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean” by Paula Wolfert is on my top 10 list, and there’s a section in the back detailing red pepper pastes.
Recipes for pickles and air fryer pastes are included in The Food Co-op Blog at foodcoop.coop/blog.
Makes 3 cups
3 pounds sweet red peppers, cut into a medium dice
2 mildly hot red chilies, like Anaheim, topped, seeded, and cut into a medium dice
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 ½ cups walnuts, toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Water as needed
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gather and prepare all ingredients. In a small, heavy-bottomed skillet, toast the cumin over a low heat until fragrant and then grind in a spice or coffee grinder.
Mix the peppers and garlic together on the baking sheet with the olive oil, cumin, and salt. Roast on a middle rack for 20 minutes. With a spatula, mix the vegetables and bring the bottom parts to the top. Return to the oven and continue to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes or until soft and sweet with some crisping edges.
Using a food processor, pulse the roasted veggies with the walnuts, pomegranate molasses, and lemon juice. The spread should be chunky-smooth, but add a little water if needed. Taste and correct the flavors with more pomegranate molasses, toasted cumin, lemon, or salt as needed. Serve at room temperature. Best if given a day to develop its flavors.
(Sidonie Maroon is culinary educator at The Food Co-op; abluedotkitchen.com. Follow Sidonie on The Food Co-op’s Facebook group, Cooking with the Co-op.)
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