Monday Ingredient: Bell Peppers


This week I decided on Bell Peppers as my ingredient. I’m very partial to red bell peppers, but they are all great and have (mostly) the same nutritional benefits! If you’ve been anywhere in the near vicinity of me in the last year, you know that I eat red bell peppers all. the. time.  There for a while, I didn’t have a meal without them.  (seriously.) So, it’s no secret that these are one of my faves.

So here’s why I think they are AWESOME!

  1. Mmm…sweet pepper.  Unlike their brother the green bell pepper (which I find to have a bitter taste), the red, yellow and orange bell peppers are sweet and savory.  But not candy-sweet.  More of a healthy, I-feel-good-about-myself-even-though-its-sweet, sweet.
  2. Texture. They are crunchy, juicy and a perfect substitute when you’re looking for a replacement “crunch” in your diet.
  3. Quick and easy.  It takes me less than 1 minute to pull out, wash off and cut up a bell pepper to include in my breakfast or lunch that I’m taking with me to work.
  4. Affordable. YES, I said affordable.  If you shop at Tom Thumb, Albertsons, Kroger, Whole Foods or Market Street…not so much.  They can run upwards of $1.99 a piece when you buy them in certain chain grocery stores.  However, Sprouts and Super H Mart almost always has these for $1 or less a piece.  Costco has a 6 pack of red bell peppers for $5.79 and a 6 pack of mixed red, yellow and orange for $6.79.  Not bad. (for more on how I shop affordably, check out my post from March about what’s in my kitchen.)
  5. Goes with anything.  I can pair these with pretty much anything.  They can be a side on their own.  I can mix them in guacamole. I can add them to a taco salad or a mexican dish.  They can be cooked or they can be raw.  They are extremely versatile.

So, enough with my opinions.  Let’s talk bell pepper!

What is a bell pepper and where did it come from?

The bell pepper is a group of one of the species of the chili pepper.  Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America.

The misleading name “pepper” (pimiento in Spanish) was given by Christopher Columbus upon bringing the plant back to Europe. At that time peppercorns, the fruit of Piper nigrum, an unrelated plant originating from India, were a highly prized condiment; the name “pepper” was at that time applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste and so naturally extended to the newly discovered Capsicum genus. The most commonly used alternative name of the plant family, “chili”, is of Central American origin. Bell peppers are actually fruits, but are generally considered in culinary contexts to be vegetables. (source: Wikipedia)

Nutrition

Bell peppers are packed with tons of nutrients. They are a good source of vitamin C, thiamine, vitamin B6, beta carotene, and folic acid. When comparing the nutrient values of the different bell peppers, studies have shown that red bell peppers have significantly higher levels of nutrients than green. Red bell peppers also contain lycopene, which is a carotene that helps to protect against cancer and heart disease.  Bell peppers have also been shown to prevent blood clot formation and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes probably due to their content of substances such as vitamin C, capsaicin, and flavonoids.

Selection & Storage

Choose peppers that have bright colors and are free of soft spots, blemishes and darkened areas.  Also avoid any peppers that have begun to wrinkle. Their stems should be green and fresh looking.  The shape of the pepper typically does not matter but, depending on what you’re making, a boxier shape may be more desirable (for instance, when making stuffed bell peppers). Peppers are available throughout the year but are in season during the summer and early fall months.

Store your bell peppers unwashed in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator.  They will usually keep about a week or a week and a half. It’s also a good idea to include a damp cloth or paper towel in the vegetable compartment to help the peppers retain their moisture. Do not cut out the bell pepper stem prior to storage in the refrigerator. Bell peppers can be frozen without first being blanched. It is better to freeze them whole since there will be less exposure to air which can degrade both their nutrient content and flavor.

Preparation  & Cooking

Wash the peppers thoroughly before you prepare them for consumption or cooking.  I’ve posted a video I filmed a while back with a how-to on cutting up bell peppers.  Check that out for some suggestions (and pardon my sickly voice).

So…how about some ideas for how to eat them?? I could go on and on and on with this list, but I’m going to try and keep it short.

  • Eat ’em raw!!  All alone or with a (paleo-friendly) dip such as homemade french onion (homemade mayo with some yummy ornate onion salt!) or Everyday Paleo’s Red Pepper Walnut dip!  I always prefer raw over other methods but sometimes I have to mix it up!
  • Roast them on the grill or in the oven.  It actually brings out even more of the sweetness (for red, yellow and orange!)
  • Check out one of my recipe’s here.
  • Stuff them and bake them.
  • Sautéed in a stir-fry
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