Peppers 101: Pick the perfect pepper, for now or later

Pickle peppers this fast and easy way

Use this super easy method to pickle peppers in minutes.
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Use this super easy method to pickle peppers in minutes.

Nutrition: Hot peppers pack a lot of vitamins as well as heat. (Here’s a list of peppers from spiciest to least spicy.) One ounce of fresh chopped peppers contains few calories (six or less for most varieties), but offers two-thirds of the adult daily allowance of vitamin A and one-third of daily vitamin C needs. That little pepper also is a good source of vitamins B6, K and E, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.

Selection: For most varieties, choose firm, smooth-skinned peppers that look glossy. They should feel heavy for their size and be free of moisture, mold or blemishes.

Storage: Moisture is the enemy of pepper freshness. Refrigerate peppers between paper towels, or in a plastic or paper bag, for up to three weeks.

Preparation: Stuff, stir-fry, freeze, roast, grill and pickle; peppers have many uses in many cuisines. Dehydrated or dried peppers can be ground into powder using a spice grinder (dedicated to hot pepper use). Try some of these recipes.

Freeze for later: This is the easiest preservation method; no blanching necessary. Simply wash and pat dry whole peppers, place in freezer bags or sealed containers and store in freezer. They’ll stay good at least six months.

To keep frozen peppers from sticking to each other, place washed peppers in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet, them freeze. Transfer to bags or containers after they’re frozen, about two hours.

Easy pickled peppers: This method works with all sorts of hot peppers. Wash and sterilize jars (the dishwasher works great for this); keep jars warm until ready for use. Wash fresh peppers. Pierce larger peppers with a sharp knife (otherwise, they’ll float in the brine), or slice into rounds. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine 3 cups mild vinegar (such as white, white wine or rice), 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil; turn heat down and let simmer until sugar is dissolved. In the bottom of each jar, add 1 teaspoon coarse non-iodized salt, 1 bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Pack peppers into jar, then top off with warm vinegar mixture. Stir gently to remove air bubbles and seal with a tight lid. The pickled peppers can then be processed in a hot-water bath (for 10 to 15 minutes) or simply stored in the refrigerator until ready for use. They’ll taste pickled in about one week and will keep for a year.

Peel a pepper: The secret? Char them first. If using a broiler indoors, make sure the kitchen is well-ventilated because pepper fumes can be caustic. Open the windows.

Rinse peppers and poke with a fork so steam can escape. Place on hot grill or 6 inches under broiler. Char the outer skin until blackened and blistered, turning the peppers often with tongs. Put the charred peppers in a paper bag and fold down the top to seal. Let them sit in the bag 10 to 15 minutes. Then, peel the peppers by scraping off the charred skins with a paring knife or running under water.

Be careful: Wear latex or plastic gloves when handling peppers. Capsaicin can burn skin and eyes – don’t touch your face while working with peppers! To remove capsaicin from hands, rub a little cooking oil on your fingers to break up the pepper residue, then wash hands with liquid detergent.

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