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Power up with Hot and Sweet Peppers – Garden to Table Cooking
I became a fan of hot peppers in the early 1990′s after making my first batch of homemade salsa with vine-ripened peppers and fresh herbs from our garden. The tantalizing flavor of sweet red peppers combined with spicy serrano peppers kicked my taste buds to a new level of flavor.
These days salsas are made with an assortment of ingredients, from corn and black beans, to vine-ripened tomatoes, to fruit from blueberries to mangos. And the one essential ingredient shared by all is peppers. So I picked up a few of my favorites–like Serrano, Sweet Banana, Anaheim Chile, and Red Beauty – at my local K-Mart.
How to Grow Peppers
No matter what pepper varieties you choose, it’s how you grow peppers that makes all the difference between recipes that sizzle or sink. For example, peppers can strive or thrive depending on the temperatures. Too much daytime heat above 90 degrees or temperatures consistently below 60 degrees at night can cause the blossoms to drop, resulting in little to no fruit set.
If nights get too cool in your area, increase the heat around plants with floating row covers, hot caps, or cloches. Mulching around plants with heat-absorbing clear plastic, black plastic or red plastic will bring more heat to plant roots. And to cool down hot days, treat plants to a temporary lattice or shade cloth.
Growing essentials include a sunny site and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. My organic matter of choice is lots of compost mixed into the top 12 inches of soil. Compost improves soil structure, provides nutrients for plants and helps retain soil moisture.
Watering is another flavor factor as too little will result in thin flesh and bitter-tasting fruit. Peppers need about one to two inches of water per week; you want the soil to be consistently moist (but not wet), like a well-wrung sponge. Continue the flavor enhancers by spreading a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost or mulch around plants, and sprinkle each plant with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of complete organic low-nitrogen fertilizer once blooms appear. (Too much nitrogen will produce lush leaves and less fruit.)
You can make or break the flavor of any pepper by when you harvest. You can pick fruits at any stage of growth. (A red, yellow or orange pepper is simply the fully mature stage of a green pepper.) But for best flavor, wait to harvest until after the fruits have changed color–the heat in hot peppers increase as they mature.
Perhaps the real beauty of peppers is their versatility in the kitchen. Peppers can be used in just about any recipe from appetizers to dessert. (Try roasted red peppers in a sweet cornbread or sweet tart, and use hot peppers to give a kick to brownies, chocolate ice cream or chocolate mousse).
Looking for a few ideas? Stuffed Green peppers with ground beef, tomatoes, rice and herbs is always a classic. Take a stab at Shish Kabobs on the grill with chunks of sweet peppers, pineapple, onions, tomatoes and chicken. Sauté up some sausage, peppers, mushrooms and onions; make skillet hash with potatoes, red and green peppers and onions; or make a quick quesadilla with cheese, peppers, fresh basil and avocado. Roasted red peppers are always a treat when tossed into pasta salad or served on top of a hamburger or sandwich. Then of course there’s always my favorite — fresh salsa! - Kris Wetherbee
Read Kris’ Recent Blogs & Guides
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