Bell peppers are one of the culinary treasures that both professional and home cooks love very much. Not only for their colorful appearances but also for the sweet taste and grassy, bright flavour. When they’re cooked through, they mellow and impart that specific soft, juicy, tender mouthfeel to any dish.
Bell peppers are from a nightshade family, where they reside together with potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes. The word “pepper” is a popular term that’s heavily used today. We say “pepper” when talking about different plants: chilli pepper, black pepper, Sichuan pepper, pink pepper, rose pepper, African pepper and others, although there is no botanical relationship between all of them. That’s why it’s easier to use “capsicum” when referring to the plants of the nightshade family (and some folks indeed call it like that, especially in Australia and New Zealand).
Capsicum is quite a vast cohort. Here fall hundreds of chilli peppers, including super hot Pepper X (that has been intentionally crossbred to make it the hottest pepper in the world, but this remains unconfirmed by Guinness World Records as of 2020). Piquant fruits (technically berries in the strict botanical sense) are sold whole, fresh, dried, powdered, pickled. Here we also have sweet and colourful bell peppers. They can be green, red, orange, purple, white, yellow, or brown. One of the most important mild bell pepper cultivars was developed in the 1920s, in Hungary. If you’ve ever heard of sweet paprika, then you should know that this ground spice is made out of that milder version of Hungarian capsicum.
Bell peppers are used in millions of ways, each colour bringing its unique flavour to the table: some could be slightly bitterish, others more fruity, but all of them play a great role in countless complex dishes. There are quite a few different variants of stuffed peppers out there. It’s common in so many cuisines: Spanish pimientos rellenos with manchego cheese and chicken or cod in red sauce. Indian bharvan mirch with meat, potatoes, and onions. Slavic stuffed peppers with meat and rice. Capsicums work great as a standalone piece: think crudites – sliced raw vegetables which are dipped in a vinaigrette or remoulade.
But a perfectly ripe and ready-to-eat bell will boast its flavours even better if you do the following: Roast it over an open flame. Right on the stovetop or under the broiler. Try to blacken peppers skin till it blisters. Then spread the peppers on a baking sheet so they can cool to room temperature. When they are cool enough for you to handle, scrape their blackened skins, split into halves, remove the stem and seeds, and slice them into strips. Season with salt and pepper, add garlic paste (of 2-3 garlic cloves) and drizzle some red wine vinegar. Serve as is, on top of warmed sourdough bread slices or mix into a salad.