In color and character, few vegetables are as emblematic of the fall harvest as peppers. Not only do most members of this family achieve their full ripeness around September, but their bright warm hues also echo the resplendent autumn leaves.
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At this time of year, you can visit farmer's markets down South where the stalls are festooned with colorful pepper strings featuring peppers in a startling array of shapes and colors.
While there are many kinds of peppers, they all can be classified into one of two varieties: sweet and hot. The most common sweet pepper is the bell pepper, which comes in many colors including purple, yellow and orange, although most commonly they are either green or red.
Here is a recipe for a simple salad featuring the many colored peppers available during the harvest season.
Pepper and onion salad
Seed and slice thin peppers of different colors and varieties. Slice a small sweet red onion very thin and toss together with pepper slices, some pitted nicoise olives, and a spoonful of capers rinsed of brine.
Make a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar and good olive oil, and season with chopped garlic and jalapeno pepper and red pepper flakes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cut basil leaves and sprinkle over the salad. This salad should be spicy and robust; taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Alice Waters, "Chez Panisse Vegetables."
Green bell peppers are often sold in their immature state and tend to be bitter and raw tasting. Bell peppers only turn red when they are fully ripe. That is why red bell peppers have a sweeter, richer taste than green bell peppers.
There are many other kinds of sweet peppers besides bell peppers, from the long yellow banana pepper to the red round cherry pepper. Generally other varieties will be smaller than bell peppers, and are sometimes sold together in an assortment called "mini-sweets."
Chilies, or hot peppers are generally smaller than sweet peppers. They also tend to be elongated and thinner. The best-known hot pepper is the jalapeno, a green to red pepper about 3 inches long with a conical shape. Jalapenos are one of the milder hot peppers. Other popular varieties include serrano, poblano, and the super-hot habanaro.
When buying, select peppers with shiny smooth skin and choose ones that are heavy for their weight. Favor ripe, colored peppers over immature green ones. When working with chili peppers, be careful not to touch your eyes or other sensitive areas.
David Ottoson owns Rainbow Foods and has bought, sold and written about food and health for 20 years.