Sweet banana peppers: plentiful and delicious

Banana peppers outproduce the more common bell pepper and can be used for many similar purposes. The long, tapered fruits are wonderful for salads and stir-frying.

These sweet peppers are also very ornamental. They are edible when they are light green, but when allowed to continue ripening they turn yellow, orange, and eventually bright red. The plants themselves are quite compact and bear profusely.

Once picked, peppers should be sealed in a plastic bag. They are very perishable and lose moisture rapidly. Keep them in the vegetable crisper but be sure to use them within several days.

Sweet peppers should not be overcooked or they will become bitter. Pieces of banana peppers can be sauteed in olive oil for 4 to 6 minutes, then combined with other fresh vegetables such as corn or squash. Segments may also be steamed for 5 to 8 minutes.

Although these peppers do not need peeling, one good method is to impale the whole pepper on a fork and turn it over a moderate gas flame until the skin is uniformly charred. Then cool slightly and pull off the burned skin. Or, place peppers under a preheated broiler and turn them once to get the charred result, then peel. Charred, Skinned Pepper Salad 8 large banana peppers, charred and skinned 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon wine vinegar

Halve peppers lengthwise and discard seeds. Combine oil and vinegar and pour over peppers. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature. Serve on lettuce leaves with slices of tomato.

When stuffed peppers are mentioned, we generally tend to think of the larger bell pepper; however, banana peppers may also be stuffed. They make great finger food for antipasto or hors d'oeuvres. Stuffed Banana Peppers 1 garlic clove, minced 2 teaspoons onion, minced 1/4 teaspoon salt Pinch of dry mustard 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 tablespoons olives, chopped Dash of Tabasco Combine all ingredients and cream until smooth. Stuff halved banana peppers and serve as appetizers.

Keep peppers picked, as the plants try to protect themselves from overloading by dropping blossoms when a full quota of fruit is developing. After some of the fruit is picked, the plant will start to set more fruit, provided the weather cooperates.

Peppers freeze very well. Cut seeded peppers into strips or pieces and place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer.

Once frozen, the strips can be packed in small plastic bags. You can use these pepper reserves in breakfast omelets and casseroles all winter.

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