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An Abundance of Peppers

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All summer long we've been gazing fondly at the pepper tables of our local farmers markets.  If you love color, texture and intricate shapes, then you can't beat peppers for sheer appearance.  We don't know exactly how many varieties we grow here in Maryland, but peppers seem to thrive.

One thing is certain:  you can put an entire spectrum of color and flavor into your dishes by using peppers.

This summer I encountered a new pepper variety, the shishito pepper.

Joan Norman of One Straw Farm introduced me to this finger-sized little green pepper. It is mild, flavorful, and seemingly put on Earth to be grilled.  If you pay attention you will see that chefs all over the region are coming up with ideas for this very appealing newcomer.

One of the most interesting is a regional heirloom variety called "fish peppers", which were prized by African-American cooks back in the 19th century.  When they are young, the peppers are creamy white.  As such, they were used to give flavor and heat to white sauces used with fish. (hence their name).  Their foliage is quite attractive, and when the smallish pods mature they become a brilliant red... well liked by landscapers.  The fish pepper is hot but not scorching hot, so a little of it in a recipe can kick up the flavor.

We have a large number of sweet peppers growing in Maryland.  Of course the bell peppers, which come in green, yellow, orange or red, have not a trace of heat but offer a sweet crunch to dishes.  Also easy to find are the yellow banana peppers, and the long yellow-green Anaheim peppers.

A touch hotter are the pablano peppers, which are dark green and fat.  They do ripen into a hot red variety, and they are often smoked or dried... becoming ancho peppers.  Closely related is the chipotle pepper, which is a dried and often smoked jalapeno. You can go hot with raw jalapenos, which are moderately hot, but not scorching.  Or you can go full bore with the notorious Scotch bonnet pepper... pretty, and tiny, and fiery hot.  

What to do with peppers:  aside from cutting them up and serving them raw in salads, or skewering them for kabobs, there are a lot of ideas.  Grilled peppers retain their sweetness, and acquire a richer flavor, and are great side dishes.  And some of the larger, mild peppers are perfect for stuffing... often with ground meat and spices.

There are tons of Indian curry recipes that call for peppers with all degrees of heat.  They are often mixed with other vegetables such as squash, onion and potatoes to make a complex stew

Finally, one of the most classic uses of peppers is to create a Mexican mole.  If you haven't encountered a mole, we're talking about a thick ultra-flavorful sauce that is arguably, more of a condiment than a pure sauce in the French sense.  Mole recipes are often quite long, and require considerable cooking time... but the results are stunning.  Do a little research into Mexican cucina, and give it a try.

Here's a nice recipe perfect for this time of the year that is made laregely from ingredients found in Maryland markets.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.