Pepper power

Punch up your salad with the colorful vegetables that are rich in vitamins and other goodies

August 13, 2008|By Joanna Brenner | Joanna Brenner,Sun reporter

They say the more colorful your salad, the more healthful it is. But instead of piling on the shredded carrots this month, try chopping up a bell pepper to decorate your mixed greens.

Ranging in color from red to yellow to green and sometimes even purple, bell peppers are available throughout the year, but they are especially delectable during the summer months.

It's well-known that bell peppers are high in vitamin A, but you might not know that they are also very rich in vitamin B-6 and folic acid, both of which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Red peppers also have lycopene, which can reduce the risk of prostate, cervical, bladder and pancreatic cancers when consumed, according to whfoods.org.

The plump and glossy peppers usually have about four lobes on the outside and a white core and seeds on the inside. But when you go to your local grocery store or farmers' market and only see green ones, don't worry; they are all light green in their early stages, but eventually turn to their true colors, says farmer Ewald August of Windsor Mill.

While jalapeno peppers are known for their spicy kick, bell peppers are not hot, making them perfect for summer dishes or veggie platters. But the possibilities are endless. Bell peppers can be chopped, stuffed, pureed, sauteed or prepared and served almost any way imaginable, depending on your personal pepper preference.

Buying

*Look for peppers that are firm and free of blemishes.

*If buying by the pound, pick out the big/heavy ones, says farmer Ewald August of Windsor Mill.

Storing

*Don't store peppers in an area under 42 degrees, says August. When they get too cold, peppers will start to pit, or sink in.

Preparing

*Make sure the pepper is washed before preparing. Start by circling around the top of the pepper with a knife to remove the stem.

*Cut the pepper in half lengthwise, then scoop out the core and seeds.

*Slice according to your preferred shape for cooking or serving. Peppers can be chopped, diced or cut into rings or slices.

Serving and cooking

*Serve raw slices with your favorite dip as an appetizer or side dish.

*Try adding chopped peppers to chicken salad.

*Try sauteing peppers with garlic, then adding them to a pot of tomato paste with onions for an excellent pasta sauce, says August.

*Stuff them with your favorite filling and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees. Cooking time depends on the nature of the filling.

joanna.brenner@baltsun.com

GREEN PEPPER WITH TOMATO AND FETA CHEESE

MAKES 8 SERVINGS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 fresh tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

1 pound fresh, sliced green peppers

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons toasted almonds

Heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic in oil 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is crisp-tender. Stir in tomatoes, oregano and red pepper, if desired. Heat to boiling.

Reduce heat; simmer uncovered about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened and most of liquid is evaporated.

Place pepper slices on serving platter; top with tomato mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and almonds.

Courtesy of Nick Attias, Pikesville Farmers' Market manager

Per serving: 77 calories, 3 grams protein, 5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 7 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 110 milligrams sodium

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