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Picking a Peck of Peppers

October 3, 2012

I love bell peppers. I use them in almost everything – stews, soups, sauces, on burgers, and in salads. So of course, I wanted to grow them in my garden.

Unfortunately, I’ve had miserable luck raising peppers from seed. Both years, I’ve had them sprout, grow a little, and then die an ignominious death as soon as I put them outside. They’ve just never been strong enough.

As a result, I gave in to the temptations of the farmers market and bought seedlings there. Last year, the purchased seedlings were barely more successful than the ones I raised from hand. I would have been lucky if the value of peppers it produced equaled the price I paid for the plant.

This year was radically different. The peppers didn’t look promising initially, but eventually grew so large that they pulled down their stakes multiple times. Eventually, many of the branches grew downwards, so when I tried to move them up they wouldn’t budge! Despite their misshapen nature, they were productive. We’ve had at least five or six peppers off of each of the three plants and think we’ll get a few more.

Bell pepper plant in the garden

While I wanted to pick them when they were still green, Chris scolded me for being impatient. “Wait until they’re red,” he said. “They’re better that way.” I waited about as well as an antsy child watching a candy bowl. Occasionally, I would go see if they were red enough and broke a couple off of the vine too early. I used them anyway, of course.

Getting the first red one was a triumph – we had waited so long! Unfortunately, something else had gotten there first. I was able to cut the bug-eaten parts off of the first pepper, but had to completely throw out the second one. A thin layer of white fluff on the top was the only clue from the outside. But when I cut it open, the entire interior was filled with the same fuzz, and a dead bug right in the middle of it. Ugh. The vermiculture worms feasted on that particular vegetable.

Red bell pepper from the garden

A beautiful, non-bug-eaten red bell pepper.

Fortunately, we’ve harvested a number since then and I’ve started making all sorts of dishes. This week, I made one of my favorite go-to dishes, vegetarian chili. Chris teasingly calls it “mildly spicy vegetable stew,” but I think I add enough heat these days to properly call it chili.

Vegetarian chili

Vegetarian chili
This makes a minimum of 5-6 hearty servings. I always make a lot, so I can freeze it.
– Olive oil
– Salt and pepper
– 2 large or 3 medium onions
– 5 or 6 cloves of garlic
– 2 large bell peppers or 3 medium ones – both red, or one red and one green
– 1-2 medium carrots, chopped
– 2 stalks celery, chopped
– 1 cup corn (frozen and defrosted, canned, or fresh)
– 6-8 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
– 6 oz tomato paste
– 32 oz of canned tomatoes
– 16 oz of beans (black and/or kidney)
– Siracha chili sauce to taste (the one with the rooster on the bottle)
– Chili powder to taste

You can adjust any of these ingredients depending on your preferences. I tend to include more beans when I cook for just myself, but leave some out when I cook for Chris as well because he doesn’t like them very much. You can also add or subtract a number of other ingredients depending on what’s on hand, including hot peppers and zucchini. This time, I left out the celery because I didn’t have any in the fridge, left out the chili powder because I couldn’t find it, and forgot about the basil altogether. I included some carrots, but much fewer than I would have preferred. I counted on getting a big carrot from the garden, but discovered they were miniscule when I pulled them!

Although I don’t specify it, add salt and pepper every time you add more vegetables to the pot.

1) Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
2) Lightly saute the onion. Just before it’s translucent, add the bell peppers and garlic.
3) Once the bell peppers are just getting soft, add the carrots and celery.
4) Mix the beans, tomatoes, corn, and tomato paste into the pot. (If you’re using canned corn, you can add it after simmering.)
5) Add Siracha to taste. Be careful – a little goes a long way! I’ve made my chili too hot a couple of times now because I underestimated how much Siracha can flavor even a giant pot of food.
6) Simmer for a half-hour or more. If the chili looks too watery, add a little more tomato paste. If you’re really hungry, you don’t need to simmer it, but it brings out the flavor.

Have you grown red peppers? What are your favorite recipes featuring them?

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