As my family and I served ourselves grilled red and green peppers, summer squash, rice and chicken, I thought about our busy summer schedule, and the need for quick meal preparation. Our grilled dinner was a family effort, and it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. My son and I cut the vegetables, my husband grilled the food, and I cooked some rice. My daughters set the table.
“Mom, isn’t a red pepper a green pepper that has ripened? I remember our green peppers turned red last year,” my older daughter said as we continued eating.
“Yes, that’s right. Red peppers are one of the best sources of vitamin C, too,” I said.
Bell peppers are mild-flavoured, highly nutritious foods that are available in various colours. We commonly find green, red, orange and yellow peppers in stores, but purple, blue or brown varieties are grown, too. In fact, they all begin green and develop their colour as they ripen.
Red bell peppers become sweeter as they mature. Some of the nutrients also become more concentrated as the peppers change colour. Red bell peppers have 11 times the amount of beta carotene as green peppers, which is converted to vitamin A by our body, and helps keep our skin and eyes healthy, among its many functions.
Red peppers are a vitamin C powerhouse. Vitamin C helps form a protein used to maintain healthy cartilage, skin and blood vessels. Vitamin C also has antioxidant effects, which may reduce our risk for cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Vitamin C is not stored by our body, so we need daily sources of this nutrient.
Add some peppers to your diet. You can raise pepper plants in a container garden or traditional garden quite easily, or you can purchase them year round in the grocery store. When choosing peppers, look for firm ones that are heavy for their size. Skip the ones with bruises, cuts or soft areas, and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Rinse them thoroughly under cool running water right before using.
Although you can cut up a pepper in more than one way, this is my favourite method: After rinsing the pepper, cut a circle around the top edge of it. Pull the top off and remove the seeds. Look inside the pepper to see the white “ribs” and slice the pepper by following the ribs. Your pepper should be in several pieces now. Next, slice off the white ribs and then proceed to cut into strips or pieces that suit your chosen recipe.
You can try peppers in a variety of meals and snacks. They add colour and nutrition to salads, sandwiches, stir-fry, fajitas, salsa, hummus and omelets. Serve a plate of sliced veggies with your favourite veggie dip. You can stuff peppers with a meat and spiced rice mixture, then bake them for a delicious entree.
Try grilling peppers. You may want to invest in a “slotted” grilling pan to help prevent the vegetable pieces from falling through the grates. Grilled peppers take on a smoky flavour, and the natural sugars caramelize with the high heat, which heightens their natural sweetness. †