LIVING WELL: Bell peppers: A versatile vegetable
by Cecelia Hostilo, Columnist
Jun 18, 2014 | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Summer brings back lots of childhood memories. And a lot of those memories revolve around gardening. Let me make it clear—I didn’t garden as a child and I don’t garden as an adult. I did not inherit my parents’ green thumbs! But, as kids we spent a lot of time at our grandparents’ house outside of Lynn Grove, Kentucky in Calloway County while our parents worked in the garden. It was a treat to go pick a fresh tomato out of the garden and eat it like it was an apple. And one of my favorite vegetables to eat fresh out of the garden was a green bell pepper. I don’t know if it was the crunch or the flavor or both, but bell peppers were a big treat for me.

As I have gotten older and gone through classes in nutrition and food science in college, I have found that bell peppers are a surprisingly nutritious food. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to prepare. Let me share some basic knowledge with you about bell peppers and you make up your own mind. I think you will agree!

Bell peppers are a staple at produce stands and farmers markets throughout the summer. You usually can buy them fresh out of the garden from June through the first frost in September. Bell peppers come in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes.

Bell peppers are grown similar to other pepper varieties. When planting it is best to make sure that rows are 30-36-inches apart and that plants are set 14-18-inches apart within the row. Harvest peppers when they are firm. If red fruits are desired, allow the pepper to remain on the plant until the desired color of red develops. It is best to cut peppers from the plant leaving a small stem to allow for longer storage.

Pepper flavors can vary based on the ripeness of the pepper. As a bell pepper ages and becomes more mature, the flavor becomes milder and sweeter. When selecting the perfect pepper look for one that is firm and has a fresh green stem. Bell peppers are best if stored in the refrigerator in plastic bags. They can hold for two to three weeks if harvested fresh from the garden or purchased at the farmers market immediately after harvest.

Bell peppers would be considered a nutrient dense food. They are high in nutritional value yet very low in calories. Bell peppers are high in vitamin C, even to the point of rivaling citrus fruits. Vitamin C promotes healthy bones and teeth and strengthens the immune system. Peppers are also a good source of vitamin A. One raw, medium-sized pepper only contains about 20 calories. They are fat-free, cholesterol-free, and sodium-free, making them a perfect addition to any meal.

Bell peppers can be preserved to eat throughout the year by freezing. They can be blanched before freezing, but it is not necessary. In fact, peppers frozen without blanching will be a little more crisp when thawed than those that were blanched.

Peppers can be prepared in a variety of manners. The easiest way to prepare peppers is to slice them or cut them into strips and eat them raw. You can also stuff peppers. To stuff a pepper, remove the top of the pepper by cutting a thin slice at the stem. Remove the seeds and membranes. Parboil the pepper for 3 to 5 minutes before stuffing.

To grill bell peppers, just quarter them and remove the seeds. Brush with a little oil and place on a hot grill for 10 minutes. Peppers can also be roasted on the grill or under the broiler. Turn the peppers as they cook until they are blackened all over. Place the peppers in a plastic bag and close it tightly to let the peppers “sweat” for 15 minutes. Open the bag; cut a slice down one side of the pepper and remove the stem, seeds and membranes. Pull off the charred skins.

I hope this information will encourage you to make bell peppers a part of your summer meals and snacks. I think you will enjoy the taste and the versatility of this vegetable!

Fiesta Grilled Peppers

6 bell peppers

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

No-salt seasoning to taste (Mrs. Dash, for example)

Wash and quarter the peppers removing the seeds and white membranes. Brush each pepper with vegetable oil and lightly sprinkle with the no-salt seasoning. Place peppers on grill over medium hot coals. Grill about 10 minutes or until peppers are crisp-tender and slightly charred.

Yield: 1⁄2 cup

Nutritional Analysis: 50 calories; 3 g fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 0 mg sodium; 6 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 1 g protein

Pepper Steak

1 pound beef top round steak

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1⁄4 cup water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 clove garlic

2 cups slice bell pepper

Partially freeze beef. Slice into thin bite-sized pieces. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Blend in soy sauce and water. Set aside. Preheat a large skillet over high heat. Add oil. Stir-fry garlic in hot oil for 30 seconds. Add peppers and stir-fry for 1 minute. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add beef to skillet and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes until browned. Add the soy sauce mixture to the beef. Cook until it is thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly. Return peppers to the pan, cover, and cook for one minute. Serve over cooked rice.

Yield: 4 (1-cup) servings

Nutritional Analysis: 310 calories; 12 g fat; 1 mg cholesterol; 5 mg sodium; 5 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 42 g protein

Beefy Stuffed Peppers

1 cup uncooked, whole wheat couscous

1 small tomato, diced

1⁄2 cup garbanzo beans

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese

4 large bell peppers

1⁄2 pound lean ground beef

1 tablespoon chopped green onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Cook couscous according to package directions. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine cooked couscous, tomato, beans, Italian seasoning, pepper, salt, and mozzarella cheese in a large bowl; set aside. Remove the tops, seeds, and membranes from peppers. Cook peppers in boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Drain upside-down on paper towels.

Cook beef until lightly browned in skillet. Add chopped green onions and minced garlic to beef and sauté until soft. Drain the fat. Toss the beef mixture into the couscous mixture. Stuff bell peppers evenly with mixture. Place in a lightly greased 9” x 9” baking dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until peppers are tender and cheese is melted.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutritional Analysis: 280 calories; 6 g fat; 2.5 g saturated fat; 35 mg cholesterol; 790 mg sodium; 36 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 21 g protein

For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 270-522-3269.

Resources and recipes for today’s column come from Sarah Brandl, Extension Associate for Nutrition Education Programming with the UK Cooperative Extension Service and The Plate it Up! Kentucky Proud Project, a joint project between UK Cooperative Family and Consumer Sciences, UK Food Science and Nutrition classes, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
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