The whole world loves peppers. Capsicum annuum, was first domesticated by the native peoples of Central America around 5000 B.C. With the arrival of Europeans the pepper was spread throughout the world. The pepper has since become an indispensable ingredient in many of the world's cuisines, great and small.
Peppers take on a never-ending variety of forms. While the sweet bell pepper is the form most commonly found in the United States, hot chiles are far more common throughout the world, lending their fire to a variety of dishes.
Some of the most popular pepper varieties are the common bell, Anaheim, Poblano, Hungarian wax, pasilla, Habanero, mullato, serrano, Thai, bird's-eye, Korean, jalapeño, banana, Scotch bonnet, cayenne and cubanelle.
The heat of peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicin and is measured by something called the Scoville scale. Bell peppers score a zero. The common jalapeño can get as high as 8,000. And the granddaddy of hot peppers, the Habanero, can reach a mouth-searing 500,000.
Peppers come into season in mid-to late-summer.
Buying, Storing and Preparing Peppers
Buy peppers that have a bright color and are plump and smooth with no soft spots. They should be stored in the crisper compartment of your refrigerator for up to a week. Use rubber gloves when chopping chile peppers to avoid a nasty burn on your face, eyes or anywhere else your hands may go. Most of the heat is in the seeds and in the white pith on the insides.
Pepper Uses Around the World
The use of chiles has reached a high art in Mexico where they are used fresh, dried, smoked and powdered. The chipotle pepper is a smoked jalapeño. Peppers can also be sautéed, pickled, roasted, grilled, stuffed and baked, and battered and deep-fried. Peppers, along with onions and celery, form the "Holy Trinity" of Cajun cooking.
(Filipino chicken and vegetables in tomato sauce)
Afridata — also known as apritada or apritadang — is an easy-to-make, homestyle dish that shows the strong influence of the Philippines' Spanish colonial history. Savory chicken and the bright flavors of fresh vegetables are bathed in a garlicky tomato sauce and served over hot rice. Read more »
(Serbian roasted eggplant and pepper spread)
This vivid red eggplant and pepper spread originated in Serbia, but its popularity has spread throughout the Balkans and beyond. In Serbia, ajvar (Serbian: Ајвар) is made with the rogo pepper and can be mild, medium or spicy. Read more »
(Haitian beef with tomatoes and peppers)
This simple, flavorful dish is characteristic of the Haitian love of tasty meat and vegetable dishes. Boeuf à l'haïtienne tastes even better if served the next day. Read more »
(Hungarian beef and pepper stew)
Bográcsgulyás (boh-GRACH goo-YAHSH), or goulash, is one of the classics of Hungarian cuisine. Variations of this basic dish are popular throughout Central Europe. Bogrács is Hungarian for "kettle", and gulyás was originally the word for "cowboy." Today goulash refers to both the herdsmen and the stew they first cooked in their kettles. Read more »
(South African spicy tomato, pepper and onion dish)
Born in the townships of South Africa, chakalaka is a simple, spicy dish of onions, tomatoes and often beans. It has been a staple for generations of black South Africans, and is a required condiment at South African braais, or barbecues. And what a fun name! Read more »
(North African eggs poached in a pepper ragout)
This dish, with many variations, is a popular breakfast in North Africa, especially in Algeria and Tunisia. Most recipes include the eggs, but they can actually be left out if you like. Jewish immigrants from the Maghreb have made this a popular breakfast dish in Israel. Read more »
(Greek feta and roasted red pepper spread)
A simple spread with loads of flavor, htipiti — also known as tirokafteri or kopanisti — is the perfect addition to a Mediterranean meze spread. The salty bite of feta cheese marries perfectly with the smoky sweetness of the roasted peppers and a touch of heat from hot pepper flakes. Read more »
(Hungarian simmered peppers and tomatoes)
Originally a Serbian dish, lecsó (LET-choh) has been fully assimilated into the Magyar kitchen. This simple pepper and tomato ragout is served both as a side dish and as an appetizer in Hungary. It is an essential component of many Hungarian dishes. A preserved version is also used in recipes as a substitute for fresh tomatoes and peppers when they are not in season. Read more »
(Middle Eastern spicy roasted pepper dip)
Muhummara is popular condiment and dip in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria. Serve muhummara with grilled meats, fish and kebabs, or as a spread or dip for bread or pita. In western Turkey it is called acuka. Other spellings are moohummara or muhammarah. Read more »
(Italian roasted peppers with anchovies)
This is a perfect late summer antipasto. For best flavor, let the peppers rest at room temperature for about 30 to 60 minutes before serving. Read more »
(Venezuelan scrambled eggs)
A popular breakfast dish in Venezuela is perico, eggs scrambled with onions, tomatoes and peppers. It's colorful name means "parakeet" in Spanish, and it can be eaten with bread or stuffed into arepas. Read more »
(American Southern cheese spread and sandwich filling)
Pimento cheese is a well-known and beloved sandwich filling in the Southern United States. A simple mixture of chopped Cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimentos, pimento cheese is great between two slices of crustless white bread. Read more »
(Spanish chicken with tomatoes and peppers)
Pollo chilindrón is a wonderful dish from the Aragón region of northeastern Spain that uses red bell peppers, a common ingredient in Aragonese cuisine. This easy chicken recipe was originally cooked in a heavy pot, or chilindrón. The recipe below makes enough for a small dinner party. Halve the recipe for a smaller meal. Read more »
(French Provençale tuna and vegetable salad)
Light, refreshing and famous the world over, salade Niçoise (nee-SWAHZ) , from the city of Nice in southern France, puts fresh garden produce and fine Mediterranean ingredients to excellent use. You can even turn a salade Niçoise into a portable meal, using it as a filling for a sandwich called pan bagnat (see variations). Read more »
(American Cajun-Creole smothered shrimp)
French for “smothered,” etouffee (or étouffée) is one of the great dishes of southern Louisianan cuisine. Shrimp or crawfish are braised in a full-flavored gravy and served over rice. Recipes vary widely by region and family. Some etouffees have dark roux, some light roux, some no roux at all. Many recipes call for tomatoes. Others leave them out. Use this recipe as a foundation and personalize it to your taste. Read more »
Sofrito is a mixture of flavorful vegetables and sometimes herbs that is lightly sauteed and used as a base for soups, stews, rice, beans and braises. Read more »
(Hungarian stuffed peppers)
Stuffed peppers are a favorite dish in Hungary, simple and homey. The practice of stuffing vegetables actually originated with the Turks. But after years of domination by the Ottomans, Hungarians adopted töltött paprika as their own. Read more »