NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665

September 23, 1999

Prairie Fare: A Dish Fit for Peter Piper

Peter Piper and I would likely disagree on some points about peppers, especially jalapeno peppers. I certainly wouldn't commit a peck of those thumb-sized fruits to brine.

From the jalapenos we grow in our garden, my wife Nicki makes jelly that's a perfect match for a steamy piece of cornbread or a corn muffin. Melting butter subdues the gritty texture of the cornmeal, and the jelly, with sweetness from the sugar, tanginess from the vinegar and tongue-tickling heat from the peppers, accentuates the sensual experience that eating can be.

Before frost ends our growing season, I sometimes make a version of chiles rellenos, which are Mexican stuffed peppers. But instead of using mild chiles, I stuff some our jalapenos with grated Monterey jack cheese, chopped black olives and green onions. I stuff some more with cream cheese seasoned with ground cumin, chili pepper, garlic, chopped fresh cilantro and grated lemon peel. I bread and then deep fry the jalapenos. The breading contains cornmeal, of course. These rellenos, topped with a zesty tomato sauce, accompany refried beans, rice and chorizo sausage--a meal fit, perhaps, for Peter Piper's alter ego, Pedro.

If it were possible for me to prepare a meal for Peter Piper, I'd be inclined to tempt him with roasted bell peppers. Roasting releases a pepper's sweetness, and after eating pickled peppers all these years, I expect Peter is probably all puckered out. As anyone who's ever roasted peppers knows, peeling usually follows roasting, but the following recipe avoids the painstaking work of peeling a peck of pretty peppers.

Oven-Roasted Peppers and Eggplant
Yield: 8 servings (about 1 cup each)

4 bell peppers, various colors (about 1 pounds)
1 large eggplant (about 2 pounds)
6 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
cup olive oil
cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. Remove the core, seeds and membrane from peppers and cut into 1-inch pieces. Peel eggplant, cut off and discard a 1-inch slice from the top and bottom. Cut peeled eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Place pepper and eggplant pieces on a baking sheet that's been sprayed with vegetable oil. Drizzle olive oil over pepper and eggplant pieces and mix well so all are coated with oil. Place baking sheet on center rack in oven heated to 350 F. Bake, turning every 15 minutes, for about an hour, or until vegetables are evenly cooked. Meanwhile, cut tomatoes in half, scoop out and discard as many seeds as possible and then chop. Set aside. When peppers and eggplant are cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet. In a 3-quart serving bowl, gently toss the peppers and eggplant with the tomatoes, cheese, herbs, garlic and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss again. Serve warm with lightly toasted slices of French or Italian bread.

What's Your Take on This, Julie?

If Peter Piper partook of pecks of pickled peppers, he probably had a paralyzed palate. We perceive the heat of peppers through pain receptors rather than through our taste buds. In fact, the scientific name for peppers is "Capsicum," which comes from a Greek word that translates into "I bite."

The Scoville Heat Unit, developed in 1912 by Wilbur I. Scoville, is a standard for measuring the heat of peppers; it's based on taste-test comparisons, but laboratory instruments can also gauge pepper heat. According to the Scoville standard, bell peppers produce zero heat units, while the jalapeno roasts the palate within a range of from 2,500 to 6,000 units, and the cayenne scorches in at between 30,000 and 50,000 units. The habenero registers a blazing range of anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 Scoville units. The origin of all this fire is the chemical compound in peppers known as "capsaicin."

Promising research results have been reported for capsaicin. There's some evidence that capsaicin can neutralize cancer-causing chemicals. It also appears to aid digestion, decrease arthritis pain and may even inactivate bacteria associated with ulcers. It may speed up your metabolism and help you burn more calories, but that might also be from running to get a beverage to extinguish your flaming mouth. Some people even apply capsaicin directly to wounds to decrease pain.

Capsaicin is found in the veins and membranes surrounding the seeds. The seeds are not necessarily hot themselves; they've just been in contact with the capsaicin in the membranes. Don't be deceived by the size of peppers; smaller peppers have closer membranes and are often hotter. Wearing plastic gloves to protect your skin and avoiding rubbing your eyes when preparing hot peppers are good ways to avoid undue pain.

If you're a novice pepper eater, Oven-Roasted Peppers and Eggplant is a mild place to start, plus a tasty way to get your recommended vitamin C. A serving contains about 150 calories and 9 grams of fat. Most of the fat is from olive oil, which is considered more heart healthy than some other types of fat. A serving also contains more than a full day's recommendation for vitamin C (mainly from the peppers) plus about 20 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A (as carotenes), along with some calcium and iron.

As you enjoy this dish, keep in mind that pepper fans often build up a tolerance to the heat and require even hotter peppers to get the same thrilling sensation. Next thing you know, you'll be reaching for some throat-torching habeneros.


Sources: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136
Julie Garden-Robinson (701) 231-7187


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