Why Peppers Are More Versatile Than Tomatoes

They're as worthy of celebration as the fruit that steals the show

Peppers just may be more versatile and offer more variety of flavors compared to tomatoes, with some good for frying and others perfect for roasting. Peppers like Jimmy Nardellos or candy cane peppers are perfectly sweet, while banana peppers, Padrons, or cherry peppers tend toward hot. Now’s the time to get your hands on anything you can find and explore.

With these prepping and cooking techniques, you'll get more mileage out of peppers — and find more ways to enjoy them — as summer transitions into fall.

Spaghetti with Grated Peppers and Noochy Breadcrumbs

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Grating tomatoes has certainly been the thing this summer. Which got me thinking: How about trying the trick on sweet peppers? Granted, using a food processor is faster and less awkward than a box grater, but the results are totally worth the minimal fuss with either method, as demonstrated with this fresh-tasting pasta sauce. Noochy crumbs — ground leftover bread spiked with nutritional yeast and parsley — keep animal products out of the mix while adding crunch to the final toss. You can substitute parmesan cheese if you prefer. And if you're buying store-bought breadcrumbs choose panko or another coarse option. Just promise me not to skimp on the peppers.

Ingredients

  • Salt 

  • 1 1/2 pounds red bell or other sweet peppers

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs

  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast

  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

  • Pepper

  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic

  • 1 pound spaghetti (or any other pasta)

Instructions

1. Bring a large pot with water to boil and salt it. Core and grate the peppers (carefully starting from the stem end on a box grater then rotating as needed; or in the food processor, using the largest holes). The pieces will be uneven and a little wet; chop any remaining big chunks and resist the temptation to drain them.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring almost constantly until they sizzle and darken, just a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutritional yeast and parsley and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl; don't bother to wipe out the pan.

3. Put the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring once or twice until fragrant, about a minute. Add the peppers and any accumulated juices, sprinkle with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally until the bits soften in places but still retain some crunch, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat if the pasta isn’t ready.

4. When the water comes to a boil, cook the spaghetti until it’s tender but not mushy; start tasting after 5 minutes. When the noodles are ready, drain them in a colander, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.

5. Reheat the pepper mixture until steaming if necessary. Then turn off the heat and toss in the spaghetti, adding some of the pasta cooking water to form a light sauce. Sprinkle with the noochy crumbs and toss again just to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve.

— Recipe developed by Kerri Conan

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Caramel Stir-Fried Beef and Green Peppers

Serves 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Beef braised in caramel flavored with fish sauce is a staple of Vietnamese cooking. In this interpretation, the sauce is streamlined and thinned, then used to quickly cook beef and vegetables, bubbling down to a sweet-salty coating in minutes. Rice is the typical accompaniment but I also like this over steamed broccoli, bok choy, or Asian greens like tatsoi or gai lan.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound beef sirloin, flank, or rib-eye steak

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 3 shallots

  • 1-inch fresh ginger (or more to taste)

  • 1 small fresh hot green or red chile (like serrano or Thai, or more to taste)

  • 1 pound green bell peppers

  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, or more to taste

  • Pepper

  • Several sprigs of fresh cilantro for garnish

  • 1 lime

Instructions

1. Put the beef in the freezer while you prepare the vegetables and sauce. Put 1/2 cup sugar in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally until the sugar becomes liquid and darkens slightly, 5 to 7 minutes. Trim, peel, and thinly slice the shallots. Peel the ginger and trim the chile; chop them together. Trim and core the bell peppers and slice them lengthwise into strips.

2. When the sugar melts and darkens slightly, remove it from the heat and carefully add 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon fish sauce. Stir in a big pinch of pepper and return the skillet to medium heat. It's OK if some of the caramel seizes up; scrape any hard bits into the liquid where they will dissolve as you cook. 

3. Add the shallots, ginger, bell peppers, and chiles to the sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the beef from the freezer and slice it across the grain as thinly as you can.

4. Add the steak to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until it’s still a little pink at the center (or more well done if you like) and the caramel sauce thickens and coats the beef and vegetables, about 3 minutes. Chop several sprigs of cilantro (reserve the rest for another use). Cut the lime into wedges.

5. Taste the caramel and adjust the seasoning, adding more fish sauce if you'd like. Garnish with the cilantro and serve with the lime wedges.

Variations

Soy Caramel Stir-Fried Beef and Green Peppers. Substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce.

Caramel Stir-Fried Beef and Green Beans. Instead of the peppers, substitute green beans (or any fresh edible-pod bean). After trimming the ends, leave them whole or cut thin into bite-size pieces.

Caramel Stir-Fried Butternut Squash with Spicy Peanuts. Totally meat-free. Instead of the beef and green beans, trim, peel, and seed about 2 pounds of butternut squash and cut it into bite-size chunks. Add it to the skillet in Step 3 and cook, stirring once in a while until you can easily pierce it with a fork. While that's cooking, chop 1 cup roasted peanuts with 1 or 2 fresh chopped red chiles (like Thai or Serrano). Toss them with the chopped cilantro and use that for garnish.

—From the upcoming How to Cook Everything Fast, Completely Revised 2nd Edition

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Popper Supper

Makes 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Yes, we've run this recipe before, but it's so popular we thought it would be handy to show how to turn it into the main course. Salad is the lightest option: All you have to do is wash some greens, top with the grilled stuffed chiles, and serve lemon or lime wedges on the side; the creamy filling is pretty rich so it becomes the dressing. You can also chop the poppers as soon as they come off the grill, then use that deliciousness to stuff big baked potatoes. And of course, topping rice or grain bowls is always an option. 

Ingredients

  • 12 large jalapeño chiles 

  • 4 ounces cream cheese

  • 1 cup finely shredded smoked Gouda 

  • Salt

  • 6 to 8 cups torn lettuce or mixed salad greens (about a pound)

  • Chopped fresh cilantro for serving

  • Lemon or lime wedges for serving

Instructions

1. Start the coals or heat a gas grill for direct cooking (the fire should be medium heat). Make sure the grates are clean.

2. Cut the jalapeños in half lengthwise but leave the halves connected at the stem. With your finger or a pointed spoon (like a grapefruit spoon), remove the seeds and white ribs from the halves. (Wear rubber gloves, or be careful not to touch your skin after handling the chiles.)

3. Put the cream cheese and Gouda in a medium bowl with a little salt; mash until combined. Fill the jalapeño halves evenly with a small spoon and press the halves back together to close. (You can fill and refrigerate the jalapeños up to a day ahead.)

4. Put the jalapeños on the grill directly over the fire. Close the lid and cook, carefully turning once, until the peppers have softened and browned (it’s OK if they char in spots) and the cheese has melted, 5 to 10 minutes. Spread the greens into a shallow serving bowl or platter, top with the chiles, garnish with the cilantro and citrus wedges, and serve.

Honey-Orange Jalapeño Poppers

Tangy with a hint of sweet: In Step 3, fill the jalapeños with a mixture of 1 1⁄2 cups crumbled fresh goat cheese (6 ounces), 2 tablespoons honey, 1 tablespoon grated orange zest, and salt to taste.

Jalapeño Poppers with Pimento Cheese and Pepper Jelly

South by Southwest: In Step 3, fill the jalapeños with a mixture of 1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces), 1⁄4 cup each chopped drained pimentos and mayonnaise, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Serve topped with a dab of pepper jelly.

Pesto Jalapeño Poppers with Mozzarella

In Step 3, fill the jalapeños with a mixture of 1 1⁄2 cups shredded mozzarella (6 ounces) and 1⁄4 cup basil pesto. Serve the poppers topped with fresh basil leaves if you like.

— Adapted from How to Grill Everything

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