See red, Go for that pepper

April 10, 2002|BY KEVIN CLAPP

Peeehhhhh-per! You don't have to be just green tonight/In salads, sauce or stir frys/even red bells can taste oh so right. ...


When it comes to slicing or dicing a red pepper into the dietary tableau, you don't have to turn on the red light.

Better yet, think of the cherry red, bell-shaped vegetable as a license to cruise into a healthier menu.

"The longer they're on the vine, the more they ripen, the sweeter they get," says Steve Scroggs, director of food and nutrition services at Chambersburg Hospital. "The bright red color will show you there's more vitamin content than in a green pepper."


In a comparison of vegetables the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest gave red peppers a green light, scoring them as a strong source of vitamin B-6 and bioflavanoids, which may promote circulation and help lower cholesterol levels.

But that just scratches the skin of the bright red vegetable, kin to bell peppers green, yellow, orange, purple or brown. Together, they create a kaleidoscope of color indicative of nutritional power.

Scroggs calls the red pepper a good source of vitamins C and A, not to mention calcium. A single, 5.5-ounce serving of red pepper will consist of 25 calories, 1.3 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2.4 grams fiber and only .7 grams fat.

Discovered in Central and South America during the early 1500s, bell peppers are so named because of their shape.

"They were fun. They were easy to grow and I found them to be pretty plants. And I liked the energy they had," says pepper grower Janie Lamson. "Any growing thing puts out its energy and peppers ... I don't know, you walk into a pepper garden and you can feel its energy. It's a great, happy energy, like ferns are kind of mellow."

So Lamson, along with husband Fernando Villegas, began to grow peppers in 1993. This year, their Cross Country Nurseries in Rosemont, N.J., will offer 444 varieties of pepper, including 21 bells.

When searching through produce for the perfect pepper, keep your peepers on the prowl for firm, unblemished specimens. They are best used within four or five days, before the flesh becomes soft or moldy.

A red pepper is a green pepper left to ripen on the vine longer. As a result, greens remain fresh longer once home in the refrigerator. Reds also taste sweeter than their cooler-colored counterparts.

One allure of the pepper is the ease with which it can be grown. Lamson says to make sure plants are set into loose, fertilized soil with plenty of sunshine and water. Mulching helps keep moisture in.

Also be sure not to plant too early; wait for overnight temperatures to consistently reach 50 degrees to 55 degrees before planting peppers, which will then take a good 70 to 80 days to mature.

"It's always better to plant late than early," Lamson says. "Chiles like warm feet and they won't grow well if the ground is cold."

Nutritionally, a yellow pepper, in contrast to its red cousin, is high in protein, vitamins A, B and C, potassium and niacin.

The lesson, Scroggs says, is that no fruit or vegetable should be ignored.

"Basically, your body reacts in different ways to various foods," he says. "It's just good to eat a variety in the respect that all different foods and food groups contain different vitamins that your body needs."

Easy Sweet Pepper Salsa

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 pound sweet peppers, finely chopped

1 teaspoon finely chopped hot pepper

2 teaspoons lime juice

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1 green onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh cilantro

Salt and pepper, to taste

In large bowl, combine all ingredients. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving.

Makes 4 cups.

Three-pepper Pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 large sweet red peppers, sliced

2 large sweet green peppers, sliced

2 large sweet yellow peppers, sliced

1 large onion, sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

16 ounces rotini or penne pasta, cooked to package directions

In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add peppers and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is browned.

Stir in remaining ingredients, except pasta. Cook, stirring, until peppers are glazed. Toss pasta and pepper mixture together.

Serves 6.

Source: Vegetarian Journal, Mary Clifford, RD, The Vegetarian Resource Group, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, Md. 21203. For information, call 1-410-366-VEGE, e-mail to or go to on the Web.

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