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‘Tis the Season for Capsicum!

August 16, 2009

Homemade condoments: sauerkraut, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce

Later in the summer, we start receiving multiple hot peppers each week from our CSA. Sometimes, it’s as many as twelve a week! Chili peppers—and many other nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers) are in season right now and, so, now is the time to try new ways of preparing them.

The chili pepper genus is Capsicum, which is derived from the Greek word kapto, which means “to bite.” According to The Spicy Food Lover’s Bible, sensitivity to the hotness of peppers (called capsaicin) is determined by genetics, so if you can’t take the heat, you can blame your grandparents.

However, there are some terrific health benefits to eating chili peppers. Capsaicin increases our metabolic rate, so that we burn more energy. It also makes us feel more full faster, which is terrific if one is trying to loose weight.

If you like peppers and are trying to use them in new ways, here’s some things you can do with them yourself.    First, think about how you use pepper products during the year. Do you buy pickled banana peppers? Consider trying to make them. Do you purchase hot sauce? You can make that, too. Do you buy dried red chilies for Mexican or Indian recipes? Drying peppers is easy and they have a long shelf life. With peppers purchased locally at the farmer’s market, you can make your own hot pepper condiments to last during the winter and you’ll happily know the origin of each one. Or, you can make stuffed jalapeno peppers (far below) for a fun, albiet occasional, dinner.

Hot Pepper Sauce

If you look on a bottle of Tabasco sauce, you’ll see just a few ingredients: peppers, vinegar, and salt. I used that ingredient list to devise my own version. Of course, the sorts of peppers you use will largely influence the hotness of this sauce, so you may want to taste as you go along. There are no measurements here, but with a tasting spoon or a tortilla chip, you can figure out how best to make it to suit your individual preferences.

1. Roast the hot peppers in a 400˚ oven. You may want to cut off the stems first, but you don’t have to. If you only like the idea of hot sauce (but not the hotness), I would recommend cutting some of the peppers in half and removing the seeds and veins. You can save these, dry them, and substitute them for red pepper flakes in other recipes. You can also add bell peppers for a more mild sauce. Roast the peppers until the skins turn black and balloon. You will need to check them ever fifteen minutes or so, and turn them occasionally with tongs.

2. Remove peppers from the oven and place in a covered dish to cool. Once they’ve cooled, try to remove as much of the skin as you can. Don’t wear yourself out over this; I am very impatient and rarely remove all the skins, but try to get what you can. If you left the stems on, remove those as well. You may want to wear gloves for this step; if the peppers are very hot you may burn your hands, or scratch an itch on your eye and burn your eye. (Not to freak you out, but this does happen.) My brother-in-law always takes out his contacts before dealing with hot peppers; it’s a good idea.

3. Put the peppers in a food processor or blender. Add a bit of vinegar (I’d recommend a white vinegar) and some salt. Puree. Taste. Add more salt, if needed, and some more vinegar if it is not saucy enough for you. You may not want to taste with a spoon—a tortilla chip is a better gauge for hotness since few folks eat hot sauce by the spoonful.

4. Now you can either refrigerate the sauce or can it in a hot water bath. I’d recommend canning it in small jars if you have them (4 or 8 oz. jars). If you did not add much vinegar, canning may be a problem because it may not be acidic enough. But I was able to can mine without a pressure cooker. Again, the amounts of vinegar and salt will really affect this part, and since I didn’t give exact proportions, I cannot say for sure.

Pickled Peppers

This recipe is adapted from a book called Putting it up with Honey. These peppers are good, but not as crunchy as the ones purchased from the store. I would recommend adding a grape leaf to each jar. I use this trick for making dill pickles and they are crunchy every time! You can use any variety of peppers and slice them or keep them whole.
4 quarts peppers
1 ½ cups salt
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
10 cups vinegar
2 cups water

Prepare peppers. Cut or slice as your wish. If you keep them whole, cut two small slits in each pepper. Dissolve salt in about 4 quarts water and pour over the peppers. Let stand for 16 hours. Drain, rinse well, and drain again. Combine the garlic, horseradish, vinegar, and water and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the garlic. Pack the peppers into hot sterilized jars to within ¼ inch from tops. Pour enough liquid over the peppers to just cover them. Complete seals and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Dried Peppers

If you wish to dry peppers, wash them and place them in your oven on very low (150˚) until they shrivel up. Check them occasionally—this will take at least 4 hours. You can also dry the seeds and veins from other peppers you’ve used. Either dry these in the oven, or place them on top of the refrigerator (I do this when my house isn’t that dusty) to dry naturally. Once dry, you can grind them up in a food processor and store in jar in the refrigerator. Use as a substitute for red pepper flakes.

Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers

This is a fun recipe—unhealthy, but fun and great for a Sunday night dinner treat. I seldom make things like this, so we have fun when I do and it’s a great way to use large jalapeno peppers!

20-25 jalapeno peppers
1 pound Italian sausage (I use locally produced Italian sausage)
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
tortilla chips for serving

Slice peppers in half, lengthwise, and remove seeds and veins. (Save them as indicated above). Set aside.

In a large skillet, brown sausage, breaking up larger pieces. If it is greasy, drain on a paper towel. If not, keep it in the skillet. Add the cream cheese and parmesan cheese. Mix well.

Heat oven to 350˚. Stuff pepper halves and place on a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, remove from the oven and place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to brown tops. Serve with tortilla chips.

You can make the stuffing, then use it to stuff just as many peppers as you need. The stuffing refrigerates well, so you can use it another time.

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