Saturday, October 2, 2010

Peppers...grow many varieties yourself!

I grew up eating out of a vegetable garden the size of a football field. My father grew about 35 different things, including ten different varieties of tomatoes, five different varieties potatoes, and five different varieties of squash. We did not, however, grow a large variety of hot peppers, only the sweet variations. Therefore, thing I never appreciated until later in my cooking life is the hot pepper varieties that are out there. So, I took it upon myself to search out different peppers to add to different dishes to get different flavors. Yes, I like different. Here are a few of the peppers I grew this year (some pictured and some not.)
This is a good opportunity to explain how hot peppers are rated for heat. The Scoville scale is a tool that measures the capsaicin in a pepper. It ranges from 0-15,000,000, with 0 being a bell pepper, and 15,000,000 being pure capsaicin, or weapons-grade pepper spray. Capsaicin lives most potently in the white part of the pepper that holds the seeds, not in the flesh of the pepper like you may imagine. So, if you have a very hot pepper, but want the flavor instead of the heat, you can cut out that white portion and the seeds to dull some of the heat. Again, the pepper will still have heat, but not as much.
Here we go into the peppers I grow and enjoy. In the picture above, you see five of the seven peppers growing at the Kachline residence this year. I will go from mild to hot (and super hot.) The round red peppers you see above are a variation of a bell pepper. They are not hot, but rather quite sweet. They grow to about the size of an egg, and are great for stuffing with sharp provolone and prosciutto.
The second type, and a hotter pepper, is the Hungarian Wax pepper. It grows green, turns yellow and then to red when it is ripest. You can pick it yellow, but it is not really hot until red. I would give it about a 3,000-5,000 range on the scale. The Hungarian Wax is the pepper most commonly know for paprika, the dried, ground spicy. It is also smoked and ground for smoked paprika. You can use this pepper fresh and diced for a little kick in a chicken or fish dish. I add both smoked and regular paprika in my chili for a base of flavor.
The third pepper on the list is the small yellow pepper in the above picture, the hot lemon pepper. Do not let the name fool you, it does NOT taste like lemons, so don't just pop it into your mouth. It is a seriously hot little bastard that can hit you hard. The lemon pepper is a variation of the Cayenne pepper that originated in Ecuador, and hits 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale. I use it mostly as a fresh pepper in salsa or in guacamole. I like to have both red peppers and yellow peppers in some dishes for added color. My plant gave me about 20 peppers, which is fairly common if you pick them regularly.
Okay, now we are getting into the big hitters. You will see hiding in the middle of the picture a small red pepper called a Japanese Nippon Taka, but is often mistaken for a thai chili. This little guy is HOT. It ranges from 50,000-100,000 on the Scoville. If you enjoy General Tso's chicken, you can picture the hot little peppers in the sauce that you push aside for fear of consuming one by accident...those are these. I do not use these fresh, but rather dry them (they dry in about 5 days) and chop them for crushed red pepper. It is really fun to grow these because a single plant bears about 50-75 peppers if harvested regularly. I still have some from last year, and will never have to buy crushed red pepper ever again.
The last pepper pictures here is the orange chili habanero. This is, what I have lovingly come to call one of the "glove peppers." When dealing with a habanero, you are foolish to handle them without some hand protection, especially if you don't regularly wash you hand before you use the bathroom. The chili habanero ranges fro 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville scale. It is plain hot, but has a great flavor too. It is a clean sort of fresh taste that is unlike a regular pepper. It is really good in salsas or as a hot sauce. You can also dice one and add to chili, but use a very small dice so people do not get a whole piece of pepper in their mouth (they will essentially melt away I diced small enough.) The plant will bear about 15-20 peppers.
I grew two other peppers this year that are not pictured because I used them up fast. The first is the Scotch Bonnet pepper. It is in the family of peppers with the Naga Jolokia, or the Ghost Chili- the hottest pepper in the world. The Scotch Bonnet will register just under 800,000 on the Scoville scale, which is 100 times the heat in a jalapeno. To use these peppers, you MUST cook them. They have a fantastic flavor when you can get around the heat, much like the habanero. To be functional, I puree them with a little garlic, white vinegar and salt for preservation. The resulting paste is, not to be redundant, F-ing hot. I add one half of a teaspoon to an entire pot of chili, and the resulting chili is hot. Don;t mess around with this pepper unless you are ready for heat.
Finally, I tried a little experiment this year, I grew a pepper for a particular purpose. The Chilaca pepper, or chili negro, is used almost exclusively in Mexico for mole sauce. They are rarely used fresh, and when dried, they are called Pasilla peppers. They are not hot, ranging from 1,500-2,000 on the Scoville scale. When ripe, they grow a brown flesh that leads one to the belief that they are rotten, but are definitely not. I don't have much to say about this pepper that will translate to words, but the one word I find appropriate is "flavorful." That is such a cop-out, but it is true. It adds a deep flavor to any dish that you may want.
So, that is my pepper blog post. Don't forget to grow your own, they are easy, grow fast and plentifully, and add deliciousness and heat to many dishes. ENJOY.

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