Tahoe Truckee Unified School District: Harvest of the Month
As the California bell pepper season comes to a close, local elementary students will explore and taste a variety of colorful peppers in the classroom as part of the Harvest of the Month program. Bell peppers, also called sweet peppers, are brightly colored, glossy, bell shaped vegetables that are not only beautiful to look at, but carry a powerful nutrition punch. They come in a variety of vivid colors such as green, red, yellow, orange, purple, brown, and black.
This versatile vegetable has a crisp, slightly watery, crunchy texture that is wonderful both raw and cooked. Green and purple peppers have a tangy, slightly bitter flavor, while red, orange, and yellow peppers are sweeter and almost fruity. Although they are related to chili peppers, bell peppers are not hot. They contain a recessive gene that eliminates capsaicin, the compound that brings the and#8220;hotnessand#8221; found in other peppers.
Bell peppers originated in South America around 5,000 B.C. and like many other foods of this region, including tomatoes, they were carried throughout the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Because bell peppers thrive in a variety of climates from tropical to temperate, they have been incorporated in the cuisines of many countries throughout the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Bell peppers are available year round, with peak production in the summer months. In California, the nation’s leading grower of bell peppers, harvest season is from late April through November. In the past, bell peppers were almost always harvested when green (immature), but more recently, they are being harvested more when they are red or yellow. As bell peppers mature and acquire their vibrant colors, the sugar content also increases, contributing to their sweeter taste.
All bell peppers are rich in vitamins A and C, but yellow, orange, and red peppers have the most nutrients. They are also the most expensive due to their longer wait for maturity. A half cup of chopped red pepper contains twice as much Vitamin C as a half a cup green bell pepper. Red peppers are also a good source of beta-carotene and lycopene, shown to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and some forms of cancer. Orange bell peppers contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which help support our eyes and skin.
Whichever bell peppers you prefer, it is a good idea to choose organic when possible. Bell peppers are among the 12 fruits and vegetables most likely to retain pesticide residue (Environmental Working Group). Choose peppers that have thick, shiny, smooth skin and green stems. Peppers should be heavy for their size and firm enough so that they gently yield to slight pressure. Store peppers in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Versatile peppers can be enjoyed in many ways. Slice raw peppers and serve with hummus or other low fat dips for a snack; add chopped raw peppers to chicken or tuna salad as well as green salads. Saute peppers to serve in stir frys. Roast peppers and include in pastas, rice, and casseroles, salads, sandwiches, or on pizza. Bell peppers add a big dose of nutrition and taste to any meal. Try some bell peppers today!
and#8212; Maria Martin, MPH, RD is a member of the Nutrition Coalition and a Wellness Dietitian. The Nutrition Coalition is funded and supported by the Tahoe Forest Health System through the Tahoe Center for Health and Sports Performance. Contact us at 587-3769, ext. 7126 or email@example.com.
Julia Walter, the Executive Chef at the River Ranch in Tahoe City, has shared her recipe for Roasted Pepper Bisque. Enjoy this on a cool fall evening with a mixed green salad and some crusty bread.
Red Pepper Bisque
4 T butter*
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup flour
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
7 each peppers (red or yellow) roasted,
peeled and seeded
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream*
Salt and pepper
Melt butter in a large pot. Add onions and celery. Saute for about five minutes over medium heat. Add the white wine. Reduce. Add the four. Stir until butter and flour are incorporated. Add stock, peppers, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer until vegetables are tender. Transfer soup to a blender or food processor. Puree the soup and strain back into a sauce pan. Add the heavy cream and simmer until heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish soup with your favorite cheese or toasted nuts.
*For a heart healthy adaptation, substitute 4 Tbsp olive oil for butter and omit the heavy cream. Add additional chicken or vegetable stock if soup needs to be thinned.