CSA Tip: How to Pick the Sweetest Husk Cherries
Husk cherries, or ground cherries as they are also referred to, have such a unique sweet, musky taste when they are truly ripe. But many of you may not know that the best and ripest husk cherries are harvested not from the plant, but from the ground. Once the cherry has ripened fully it falls to the ground where it can easily be scooped up. When choosing them from the ground, pick those that feel plump within their husk as they are the least likely to have started to decompose. Happy gathering!
Sweet peppers are a general term for the variety of peppers that do not include the spicy ingredient Capsaicin. These include bell, cubanelle, wax, banana, pimento, sweet cherry, mild frying peppers, among many others. While the term sweet pepper technically includes mild green peppers, they are more often associated with the brightly colored red, yellow, or orange peppers that tend to be sweeter than their green counterparts. Many, but not all, varieties of sweet peppers are green earlier in their maturation. If left to grow for longer periods they will turn red, orange, or yellow. However, some varieties stay green throughout the growing process.
We are lucky enough to sample several varieties of sweet peppers at the farm, many of which started out as shades of green, but which have started coming in red, orange or yellow as the season has progressed. The bell pepper varieties that we have been sampling are beginning to turn red, orange, purple and yellow and are delightfully sweet.
In addition to becoming sweeter, mature sweet peppers have significantly more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than earlier picked peppers (which again, are often, but not always, green). Since earlier picked peppers still have a lot of nutritional value, that makes the more mature “sweet” peppers even more of a nutritional powerhouse. They are particularly high in vitamin C, lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin E.
At their peak, sweet peppers should be vividly colored, heavy for their size, and have smooth, non-wrinkled skin and a fresh looking stem. They should have no blemishes, soft spots or black areas. Shriveled stems, wrinkles, or soft areas suggest that they are past their prime. Store peppers, unwashed, in plastic in the refrigerator. They should last about a week. However, immature peppers (like many of the green bell peppers) will last longer in cold storage than the riper ones (typically the red, orange and yellow peppers).
Sweet peppers are wonderful raw on any crudite platter. I especially love them as a snack with hummus or baba ganouj. Raw sweet peppers are also a gem in many different salads and go with about any kind of vinaigrette or dressing.
In cooked preparations, sweet peppers get soft and even sweeter. They are great in soups/stews, in just about any sauté or stir fry, or roasted, grilled, and broiled. Roasted sweet peppers offer a versatile ingredient for many recipes. Try using them in dips, sauces, pasta dishes, salads, and casseroles. See below for a quick and easy way to roast sweet peppers. Also see recipes below for potentially new ideas for cooked sweet peppers.
The easiest and fastest way I find to roast peppers is to:
- Cut off both ends of the peppers, make a vertical cut down one side, open it up and then take a knife around the inner sides to remove the membranes and seeds. This will make one long pepper strip which can be flattened by pressing gently.
- Coat pepper strips with olive oil or olive oil spray and place, skin side up, on baking sheet.
- Broil about 6” from flame until skin is blistered and black and flesh is softened, about 5-8 minutes, depending upon your oven.
- Place peppers in a zip-loc bag and seal. Allow to steam for 10 minutes, then peel and cut.
One of my favorite ways to eat cooked peppers is to stuff them. Rather than provide a single recipe for you I thought I would try to empower you by teaching you a general method for stuffed peppers so that you can come up with your own combinations. If you find yourself struggling for ideas, refresh your knowledge of my International flavor profiles (click here). This past week I used a Tex-Mex combination of diced Spanish chorizo, black forbidden rice, summer squash, red kidney beans, fresh corn, cumin seeds, smoked Spanish paprika, dried oregano, and grated cheddar cheese in my stuffed peppers. It was addictively delicious.
The filling is infinitely versatile. If you don’t not want to use grain, add more meat or veggies. I you don’t eat meat, use more grain and/or veggies. You can also add other flavor components like dried fruit.
The recipe makes stuffing for at least 6 peppers. If you don’t have 6 peppers, you can reduce the ingredients, or use leftover filling to stuff zucchini or even tomatoes.
Stuffed Peppers makes about 6
-About 6 large sweet peppers
-Optional 8 ounces meat of choice (ground or diced works well)(ground turkey, lamb, chicken, beef or sausage, or diced chicken or cooked sausage)
-1 small onion or half large onion, minced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-About 1 ½ cups veggies of choice cut into 1/3” dice (summer squash, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, mushrooms, eggplant, fresh corn kernels…)
-1 8 ounce can organic tomato sauce or 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
-1 14.5 ounce can beans of choice, drained and rinsed
-1/2 cup whole grain of choice (rice, farro, bulgur, quinoa, barley)
-Herbs and spices of choice (fresh basil, cilantro, sage, or parsley, ground cumin, ground coriander…)
-Optional 1/3 cup grated cheese of choice plus more for topping (cheddar, feta, gruyere, Parmesan…)
-Optional 2-3 Tablespoons nuts of choice (almonds, pepitas, pine nuts, cashews…)
Cook grain according to its unique cooking needs. Allow to cool.
Place about 4 quarts of water in a large pot. Add ½ tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Meanwhile cut about ¼” off the tops of the peppers and then, using your fingers, reach in and remove seeds and white ribs from each pepper (reserve the pepper tops for salads or other recipes). If needed, cut a very small slice off the bottom of each pepper if they do not stand up securely on their own, being careful not to cut through to the open part of the pepper (or else your filling will fall out the bottom). Place prepared peppers in boiling water top up and push down with tongs so that they fill with water and sink (this will allow them to be submerged in the boiling water so that they cook evenly). Cook for 5 minutes or until just starting to get tender but still hold their shape. Using tongs, place peppers upside down on a paper towel-lined surface to drain and cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Prepare a baking pan by brushing or spraying with oil.
In a large skillet or wide bottomed pot, cook meat if using. Drain, if necessary, and remove to a bowl. Add 2 teaspoons coconut oil or oil of choice back to skillet and return to medium flame. Add onions and veggies and cook, stirring frequently, until onion has softened, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. If using fresh tomatoes, add them now and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes cook down and make a thickened sauce (about 15 minutes)(if you prefer an even thicker sauce, add 1-2 tablespoons tomato paste), then add beans, grain and cooked meat. Otherwise, add tomato sauce, along with beans, grain, and cooked meat to pan and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes or until thickened. Season with herbs and spices, as well as salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in 3 cup cheese and nuts if using.
Stuff peppers high with filling and sprinkle with additional cheese if desired. Place in baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until hot.
This recipe is a family favorite. It was adapted from Cooking Light (click here) to use an amount of chicken that is more typically sold in stores and that will feed a family of four and to add a vegetable component (sweet red peppers) which goes great with the peanut sauce. This chicken is super over cooked brown rice.
Peanutty Chicken Curry with Sweet Peppers Serves 4
– 2 teaspoons coconut oil or oil of choice
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 3 large cloves garlic, minced
– 1-2 large sweet red or yellow bell peppers. cut into 1/4″ thick slices (about 1 1/2″ long)
– 2 lbs fresh tomatoes, chopped
– 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
– 2 teaspoons curry powder
– 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, preferably homemade
– 1/2 cup natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
– 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (preferably pastured and/or organic), thinly sliced across the grain
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add sweet peppers and saute, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and curry powder. Simmer, stirring frequently, until tomatoes have given up their juices and mixture is thick, about 20-30 minutes. Add broth, peanut butter, salt and cayenne and mix until blended. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add chicken, mix in well, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until chicken is just cooked through.
A girlfriend in college introduced me to this type of gazpacho after her travels through Andalusia, Spain. It is perfect for this time of year when the farm produces what I call the Great Trifecta—tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers.
The recipe can easily be halved, if desired. However, it does keep well for a few days in the refrigerator.
Andalusian Gazpacho Serves 8
– 3/4 cup torn stale bread
– 6 large ripe tomatoes, stemmed and roughly chopped
– 3 small cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
– 1 small red bell pepper, roughly chopped
– 1 small green bell pepper, roughly chopped
– 3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
– 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
– 1 teaspoon salt
Place bread in the bottom of a blender. Top with chopped tomatoes. Let sit while you chop up and add other ingredients. Blend all ingredients to desired level of chunkiness using on/off pulses. Taste for salt level.