Prairie Fare: Try some colorful peppers this season
“My whips!” I said. “I can’t fee my whips!”
I was trying to say, “I can’t feel my lips” but my tongue wasn’t working well.
My older daughter had purchased a Trinidad Scorpion pepper for $1.50. She watered and weeded it all summer and was proud of how productive it was.
The previous day I heard my husband and daughter gasping, coughing and laughing as they tried the tiniest snip of the pepper.
My daughter decided she should dry the super-hot peppers. I saw the ground-up powder in a granite mortar (bowl) and pestle (grinder) on the countertop.
Curiosity got the best of me. They always tease me about my delicate Scandinavian taste buds. I’ll show them, I thought.
I nabbed a tiny amount of the pepper powder to taste, less than the size of a grain of sand.
Soon I was gasping and lost feeling in my lips and tongue. I grabbed a glass of milk, which helped neutralize the burn a little. Drying the peppers concentrates the spiciness.
“The peppers even had mean faces,” my daughter commented about the slightly shriveled green peppers.
The spiciness of peppers is measured in Scoville heat units. Capsaicin is the main compound that gives hot peppers their “heat.” American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville created the scale in 1912.
Originally, the relative heat was determined by human taste testers. I feel sorry for them.
To put this in perspective, a bell pepper has a Scoville heat unit rating of zero, and a jalapeno ranges from 2,500 to more than 10,000 Scoville units. The spiciness of a Trinidad Scorpion pepper is in the 750,000 and higher Scoville range.
Yes, you read that correctly. I’m lucky my tongue and lips didn’t fall off.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson about hot peppers.
We had a major crop of bell peppers and jalapeno peppers. After cleaning and cutting bell peppers, I didn’t pause my work to find the plastic gloves with our canning supplies in the basement.
I know better.
Even though jalapeno peppers are relatively mild compared with other hot peppers, I had inflamed hands for a while. Washing dishes with a grease-dissolving detergent finally removed the pepper’s oil from my skin. You also can use a baking soda paste to help soothe your skin.
Capsaicin is found primarily in the seeds and membrane of hot peppers. If you want to reduce the spiciness of hot peppers, remove the seeds and membranes, while wearing gloves, of course. Wash the cutting board very carefully after use.
Peppers can be classified as mild, medium or hot. The heat level varies based on the type of pepper and the growing conditions.
According to some scientists, we actually build up a tolerance to hot food and may crave it after awhile. When we eat super-spicy food, the nervous system responds to the pain by releasing endorphins or “feel-good” chemicals.
I prefer sweet bell peppers, which range in color from green to red, orange or yellow. Peppers start out green and mature to the final color associated with their variety.
Preparing bell peppers is a breeze. Rinse, cut and place the pepper strips on sheet pans. After they freeze, place them in freezer bags so they can be used as needed.
Peppers are very low in calories and provide vitamins, such as vitamins A and C, and the B vitamin folate. Red bell peppers get the gold star for nutrition with more vitamin C than all the other types.
Enjoy bell peppers fresh in salads or with a vegetable dip. Try sauteeing peppers and using in fajitas, or grill them. To grill, cut peppers lengthwise, brush with oil and grill for about 10 minutes or until they reach the desired state of doneness. Enjoy them stuffed with your favorite mixture such as this recipe.
Blazin’ Stuffed Bell Peppers
2 medium red bell peppers
2 medium green bell peppers
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 small tomatoes, chopped
2 c. corn (fresh or frozen)
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp. cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 c. shredded cheese
Rinse peppers under cold water. Cut them in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place peppers in a large pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for five minutes. Drain the peppers and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F. Saute the chopped onion until tender. In a large bowl, mix together onions, tomatoes, corn and black beans. In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except the cheese and peppers. Add the oil mixture to the vegetables; mix until spread throughout. Place bell pepper halves on a greased baking sheet. Fill with the mixture and sprinkle each one with cheese. Bake for eight to 10 minutes or until cheese is completely melted.
Makes eight servings. Each serving has about 130 calories, 2 grams (g) fat, 26 g carbohydrate, 7 g protein, 7 g fiber and 240 milligrams sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.
For more Prairie Fare columns: www.ag.ndsu.edu/news/columns/prairie-fare/