The Tasteful Garden How To Grow and Cook What You Love to Eat

The Tasteful Garden: Give peppers room, they’ll bring the heat

June 20, 2014 

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Hot peppers are easy to grow and offer a variety of flavors from fiery to mild.

RAY BLACK III — NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Carol Stein grows it

If you want some edible fireworks this summer, there’s still time to grow hot peppers. With plenty of sunshine and space, chiles are simple to grow and seem to thrive on our warm, dry days.

Not all chiles are extremely hot. Flavors range from the fiery scotch bonnet and Thai chiles to milder varieties such as pepperoncini or Anaheim.

They grow well in containers, provided that you don’t crowd the roots. I grow hot peppers in 3-gallon to 5-gallon pots. Fill them with fresh potting mix that contains water-retention granules.

In containers or the garden, set the plants slightly deeper than they were in the nursery pots. Then water thoroughly and top with a couple of inches of mulch or compost to combat weeds and retain moisture.

The bright green foliage of pepper plants makes a pretty backdrop for colorful annual flowers like marigolds, zinnias, petunias and gaillardia (blanket flower).

Many chiles come in a rainbow of colors when ripe – orange habaneros are one example. Some, such as jalapeños and serranos, can be harvested when they’ve reached a good size but are still green. However, the flavors will deepen if they’re allowed to ripen and turn red before using. You should have ripened peppers in eight to 10 weeks after planting.

Debbie Moose cooks it

In the world of hot peppers, this is a good guideline: The smaller the chile, the hotter the taste.

Poblanos, the sturdy peppers used for authentic chiles rellenos, have a rich, mellow flavor and little fiery heat. The dried form of this pepper is called ancho, and the sweetness increases in this form.

The medium-sized Anaheims are low-heat, too, and play well with other ingredients in stews and soups.

But hot-heads like me enjoy a little fire in our peppers. The well-known habañeros have a fruity flavor beneath their strong heat. Thai peppers keep their pure heat throughout Asian stir-frys or simmers. Serranos are one of my favorites for all-purpose medium heat. Their savory flavor works raw in guacamole or salsa, or cooked in chili.

Look online for a Scoville scale chart that will let you know the heat level of chiles you plan to use. ( Eatmorechiles.com has a good one.)

Mild but flavorful peppers, like shishitos or banana peppers, are delicious simply grilled with olive oil, salt and a squeeze of lime. To prevent peppers from splitting on the grill, puncture each one with the tine of a fork or the tip of a sharp knife.

The heat is in the seeds, so you can douse some of the fire by removing them. Don’t touch your eyes or other tender body parts after cutting up hot chiles, because the oil may remain on your hands even after washing with hot soapy water. Use disposable gloves if handling a lot of hot peppers.

Storing chiles is easy. They can be refrigerated for several weeks, or placed in resealable bags and frozen.

Drying chiles on strings outdoors in the sun, as they do in the Southwest, can be difficult in the humid South. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, humidity below 60 percent is ideal and the peppers must be brought in at night. I find that freezing is easier.

Reach Carol Stein and Debbie Moose at tastefulgarden@hotmail.com.

Dynamite Wings

Call the fire department, because these wings are hot. This recipe – from Debbie Moose’s cookbook, “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” (Harvard Common Press, 2007) – is for fans of fire.

8 habañero chiles, stemmed and seeded

4 cloves garlic

1 medium yellow onion, cut into quarters

¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

8 whole chicken wings, split at joints and wing tips discarded

Olive oil

PLACE the habaneros, garlic and onion in a food processor and pulse to finely chop. Remove to a medium-size bowl and stir in the vinegar and salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors blend.

PREPARE a medium-hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill.

RUB the wings with olive oil and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Coat them liberally on both sides with the habanero mixture. Grill for 15 minutes, then turn, coat again with the habanero mixture, and grill for another 15 minutes. Keep the heat on medium and watch for any burning. Do not use the mixture near the end of cooking. Cook the wings until no pink juice emerges when they are pierced with a sharp knife.

Yield: 4 servings.

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