In a world obsessed with Sriracha, the bell pepper's nonexistent burn may not seem that interesting. But few other vegetables can be smoked, stuffed or sun-dried with such beautiful results. Their crisp and juicy flesh makes peppers perfect for snacking on their own or dicing raw into a salad, but their fresh flavor is good for so much more, too.
First, a few words about the range of colors: Green ones are harvested before they're fully ripe, so they have a slightly bitter taste, while red, yellow and orange varieties are sweeter and more fruity.
When perusing peppers, make sure they feel firm and their skin is taut. They'll keep in the crisper drawer for about a week, wrapped in a damp paper towel to make sure they don't lose moisture.
We talked to three chefs to find out how they take advantage of these glorious capsicums.
Infused: Bell peppers are an ideal candidate for vodka infusions thanks to their light, herbal flavor. Phillip Beaupre, bartender at The Cellar at Beecher's Cheese in New York City suggests muddling both bell peppers and cucumbers into vodka to release their vibrant flavors. "We add some simple syrup (equal parts sugar to water) and fresh lemons, then just let it sit for a few days," he says. Serve with soda water over ice for a simple, refreshing cocktail.
Coal-Roasted: Roasting is an easy way to coax big flavor from bell peppers, but Jake Bickelhaupt of 42 Grams in Chicago adds a smoky twist by roasting them on right on charcoal. He suggests covering them with hot hardwood charcoal and cooking until they're blistered all the way around, then puréeing the peppers with lemon juice to make a sauce that plays well with fish and poultry. (Throw some shallots on the coals while you're at it, too.) Chef David Bazirgan of Dirty Habit in San Francisco roasts his peppers in a similar way, blending them with olive oil and sherry vinegar to make a topping for seared scallops with creamed corn.
Sweet and Sour: To showcase the beautiful colors and highlight the natural sweetness of the vegetable, borrow this recipe for sweet-and-sour peppers with fresh basil from Evan and Sarah Rich of Rich Table in San Francisco. It's a kinder, gentler take on Italian agrodolce that we want to slather on toast all year long.