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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Peppers:


Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South Africa.  Pepper seeds were carried to Spain in 1493 and spread to other European countries, Africa, and Asian counties.  Today China is the world's largest producer of peppers.

Peppers come in all different sizes and shapes.  They range in flavor from very sweet and mild to so hot they can actually burn the skin.  Bell peppers are known as sweet peppers.  The red bell pepper is actually a ripened green bell pepper.   The Italian sweet frying pepper, also called a Cubanelle, is not  a bell pepper or a chile pepper.  It is normally a light green color but can be orange to red.  As the name implies it is on the sweet side.  Then there are the chile peppers.  They contain capsaicin, a chemical that produces a strong burning sensation on the mucous membranes.  Generally speaking, the smaller the pepper the hotter the taste, but this can vary depending on local growing conditions.

Supplies of bell peppers from California, Florida, and Mexico have overlapping growing seasons.  This ensures a year round supply with various peak times.  Chile peppers are also generally available year round.

The smell of peppers reminds me of my maternal grandmother's kitchen.  She and my grandfather had a fruit and vegetable store for a time before I was born.   She always had a variety of fruits and vegetables on hand.  As a kid I remember having salami and fried peppers on a roll at the beach on Coney Island.  Later in the supermarket in Florida there was a customer who would come in looking for damaged produce to buy at a discount.  Many times we sold her cracked or wrinkled peppers.  She would take them home, cook them, and bring them back with bread and cheese  for us to make sandwiches.   They were so delicious.  Her name was Ida and she was an Italian from New Jersey, but we called her "the grandma lady".  She just looked like a gandma.

All peppers are rich in vitamins A, C, and K , but red peppers are bursting with them.  Red peppers are a good source of lycopene.  Vitamins A asnd C are antioxidants and help prevent cell damage, cancer, diseases relating to aging, and support immune function.  Lycopene is earning a reputation for helping to prevent prostate cancer and cancer of the bladder, cervix, and pancreas.  Finally peppers are rich in phytochemicals with a decent amount of fiber.

Select peppers that have a glossy sheen and no shrivelling, cracks or soft spots. Store sweet peppers in a plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. Green peppers stay firm for a week and other colors go soft in 3 or 4 days.  Hot peppers do better refrigerated in a perforated paper bag.

Hot peppers' fire comes from capsaicin which acts on the pain sensors rather than the taste buds.  Capsaicin has been shown to decrease blood cholesterol and triglycerides, boost immunity, and reduce the risk of stomach ulcers.

The hotness of peppers is measured according to the Scoville Heat Index. .  The mildest peppers are at the bottom.  Most of the heat in peppers is found in the seeds and rib membranes.  To reduce some heat remove the seeds and membranes.  Here is a short list of some peppers and their Scoville Units:

16 million                              - pure capsaicin
 5 million                               - Law enforcement pepper spray
100,000 - 350,000                 - Habanero pepper, Scotch bonnet pepper
 30,000 -  50,000                   - Cayene peppers
 10,000 -  25,000                   - Serrano pepper
  2,500 -    8,000                    - Jalapeno pepper, Paprika, Tabasco sauce
     500 -    2,500                    - Anaheim pepper, Poblano pepper
     100 -       500                    - Pimento, Banana pepper, Peperoncini
          -  0 -                             - Bell peppers

Handle hot chile peppers with care.  Wash your hands thoroughly after preparing them.  Not only will the residue burn your lips and eyes, it will transfer to other fruits and vegetable.

So......... Eat up !  Enjoy !  I'll show you how.

Simple but Good:

Fried Cubanelles:

Several cubanelle peppers
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
garlic powder
salt and black pepper

Take the peppers and slice off the tops close to the stems.  Cut down one side of the pepper and open it up.  Remove the seeds and ribs.

Place about 1/8 inch of extra virgin olive oil in a pan and heat.  Put in the garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes until the garlic begins to brown.  Remove the garlic to a paper towel to drain.  Put peppers in pan and stir to cook.  When the peppers start to get soft add back the garlic and lower the heat to low medium.  Give a generous sprinkle of garlic powder and add salt and black pepper.  Cover and cook until peppers begin to brown.  Remove to shallow dish and let sit at room temperature to cool and marinate.

Enjoy with crusty bread by dipping the bread in the oil and eating it  with the peppers.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kiwifruit

Kiwifruit:


The kiwifruit is a native of southern China where it was grown over 700 years ago.  It was formerly known as the Chinese gooseberry.   In about 1962 when the fruit was making its U.S. debut it was suggested that more might be sold if the name was changed to that of the flightless New Zealand bird whose fuzzy brown coat resembled the kiwifruit skin.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The kiwifruit is oval in shape about the size of a hen's egg with fibrous dull green-brown skin and bright green or golden flesh with rows of tiny black edible seeds.  The most common variety of kiwifruit sold in the U.S. is the "Hayward" which was developed in New Zealand around 1924.  The taste resembles a combination of banana, strawberry, and pineapple.

The kiwifruit is a rich source of vitamin C and potassium, and also a very good source of fiber and vitamin E.  The kiwifruit has a low glycemic index and also provides zinc  which promotes healthy skin, hair, teeth, and nails.  Kiwifruit is an excellent source of  antioxidants which are important in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke.   Eating just a couple of kiwis each day may significantly reduce the risk of blood clots and the amount of triglycerides in our blood.

In my early years in the produce business kiwifruit were not popular in the U.S.  I first remember kiwifruit during my supermarket days.  They were new and exotic with their fuzzy brown-green skin.  Back then as now they came in a flat box with each kiwifruit it its own little  pocket. 

California grown kiwis are available November through May. New Zealand kiwis are available June through October making kiwis available year round.  Select kiwis that give to gentle pressure from the thumb and forefinger.  They are the sweetest.  To hasten the ripening process put your kiwis in a paper back with an apple or banana.  A ripe kiwi will stay in your fruitbowl at room temperature for several days.  In the refrigerator it will keep as long as four weeks. 

Although most people prefer to peel the kiwi, it is not necessary.  The skin is edible.  Just give it a wash.  You can rub it a little to reduce the fuzz.   The skin does not have a bitter taste and is good for holding the fruit together for eating out of hand.  If you prefer to peel, just cut off the two ends and use a sharp paring knife to remove the skin.

The bright green color  of the kiwi looks great when combined with other fruits in a salad.  Pureed kiwi is good drizzled over strawberries or raspberries.  It's great on ice cream.   Kiwi can also be used as a tenderizer on meats.  Just place slices of kiwi or peels with some flesh directly on meat and let tenderize for 30 minutes for each inch of meat thickness.

So...... Eat up!   Enjoy!  I'll show you how.