I almost feel sorry for green bell peppers; if only they weren’t so bitter and immature. The fact is, most folks prefer sweet bell peppers, and so we’re willing to wait all summer long for the arrival of those glorious red, yellow, and orange varieties. I’m partial to the purple and chocolate brown varieties, too.
But you can’t blame those unripe green bell peppers for being bitter. For one thing, they’ve only got about half as much vitamin C as their hot-colored cousins. Adding insult to injury, they’re much cheaper, too, for the simple reason that they’re just not as popular.
To be perfectly fair, any pepper you pick packs a nutritional wallop: they’re all high in fiber and nutrients. Yellow peppers set the gold standard for folate and iron; red peppers rank best for beta carotene. All the sweet bell peppers are a standout in salads and stir fries; their crisp, juicy texture and bright colors add zest to any summer dish you can think of.
Bell peppers are delicious raw, and so easy to prepare, that it almost seems a shame to cook them. But roasting bell peppers gives them another whole layer of rich, smoky flavor; you can’t go wrong with a roasted pepper purée spread on sandwiches or swirled into soups.
When selecting bell peppers, seek out the ones that are firm and thick-walled, and keep in mind that bell peppers rank third on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of the most pesticide-tainted produce. A powerful incentive to buy organic, or better yet, grow your own.
Bell peppers need a long growing season, though–about 120 days for most varieties. And like Goldilocks with her porridge preferences, they’re rather finicky about temperatures. Bell peppers do best in weather that’s neither too hot (above 80 degrees) or too cold (below 65.)
So gardeners in northern regions will have better luck with an early fruiting variety especially suited to our region, such as the rare heirloom King of the North bell pepper whose seeds I ordered this year from the Hudson Valley Seed Library. To be honest, we’ve had such a weird, wet growing season that everything is behind schedule, but my pepper plants have formed plenty of fruits and I remain optimistic that they will ripen before the first fall frosts. If not, I hereby resolve to embrace any green, unripe peppers that may grace my plants, and find appealing ways to prepare them. Why stoop to their level and be bitter?
With Labor Day upon us, there’s no more effortless way to savor bell peppers of any color than to make veggie kabobs; simply cut them into chunks and grill them on a skewer, accompanied by onions, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, or whatever other veggies you’ve got handy. If you really want to get fancy, you can marinate them for a few hours before you grill them, and throw in some pineapple chunks and tofu as in this recipe from vegalicious.org. What a perfect way to sweeten up all those green bell peppers I’ll be skewering.