Rozanne Stevens finds out about pepper production in Ireland, offers cooking tips and tells you how to chop them.
One of the culinary contributions of the Celtic Tiger is the proliferation of peppers we now buy in Ireland. Not a part of our traditional diet and recipes, we have adopted this bright, crunchy and sweet vegetable.
Nutritional Value in Context of Our Modern Diet
At a recent seminar, I was shocked to learn that, as a nation, our consumption of fruit and vegetables is still shockingly low. Only an estimated 40% of the population gets the recommended 'five a day'. And many people don't realise that 'five a day' is really the minimum intake to maintain good health.
One simple statistic that stuck in my mind, was that for every fruit or vegetable you consume you reduce your risk of heart disease by 4% and your risk of stroke by 6%. Heart disease is the biggest killer in Ireland and it really doesn't have to be. So simply by eating around seven pieces of fresh produce, you have improved your health by a third! Isn't that great news? So take summer as a great opportunity to expand your repertoire of recipes and increase your intake of fruit and salads.
Peppers are an ideal addition to your diet as they are full of fibre and also contain very high levels of Vitamin C. Half a pepper will give you almost all of your Vitamin C needs for the day. Peppers also contain antioxidants that contribute to heart health by strengthening arteries and veins.
Pepper Production in Ireland
I went off to find out what the real deal is with peppers at the Keelings farm in St Margaret's, Co Dublin. What I found was acres and acres of hi-tech glass houses growing miles and miles of red, yellow and green peppers. This technology is the latest and best from Holland which is a world leader in glass house pepper growing.
Peppers grow like vines up lengths of biodegradable string. They all start off green then will either turn yellow, orange or red depending on the variety grown. Very few chemicals are used in growing the peppers as they are in glass houses.
There is one bug who does like to munch on them and that is the red spider mite. So Keelings had the innovative idea of introducing aphids that are the natural predator of these mites. At the end of each row of peppers is an 'aphid bush'.
By buying Irish peppers, you will be taking about 200 trucks off the roads that would be transporting imported peppers and contributing to our carbon footprint.
Loose, 'Traffic Light' and Bulk Bags of Peppers
Next onto the sorting line. The best quality peppers are sold loose, the second grade peppers go into the 'traffic light' bags and the smallest ones go into a mixed bag of peppers. They are all good quality but will vary in size and symmetry. Loose peppers are the most expensive, ranging in price from 69C to 99C. The 'traffic light' peppers come in at about €1.99, and the bag of six peppers at €1.89. So if you don't like or use the green peppers for instance, don't buy a 'traffic light' bag of them as it will just be a waste to throw out the green one.
Top Tips with Peppers
1) Slice the four walls off the pepper and use these instead of a slice of bread. Pile high with tuna or hummous, low fat cream cheese and chives.
2) Finely slice peppers into green salads for extra crunch and sweetness.
3) Use all three colours of pepper strips in stir fries.
4) Finely slice peppers and spring onion into tuna mayo mix for sandwiches and wraps for school or work lunch boxes.
5) Use this same tuna mix on top of a baked potato.
6) Add to homemade fried rice with mushrooms, spring onions, soy sauce, ginger and chicken.
7) Use pepper strips in a Spanish tortilla with eggs and potatoes.
8) Roast red peppers by placing whole on a baking tray in a 230°C oven for 35 minutes. When the skin is charred and blackened, place in a glass bowl and cover with cling film. Allow to steam for 10 minutes, then peel off the skin and remove the seeds with your fingers.
9) Use them in casseroles and stews like traditional Hungarian goulash.
10) For a rice salad take cold cooked rice and add a tin of drained sweetcorn, finely chopped peppers, and red onion. Flavour with lime juice, a little sunflower oil and fresh coriander.
11) Use pieces of peppers on chicken, meat or prawn skewers on the BBQ.
12) Eat pepper strips as a snack with a healthy bean or hummous dip.
How to Chop Peppers
Step 1: Lay the pepper on its side and slice off the bottom end (not the stalky side!).
Step 2: Turn the pepper so it stands upright on the stalky side; if the stalk gets in the way, snap it off.
Step 3: Proceed to slice off the four 'walls' of the pepper. You should be left with the seeds house and membranes attached to the stem end which you can just discard.
Step 4: Trim any extra white membrane off the 'walls' of the pepper.
Step 5: Slice into long strips for stir fries and into cubes for salads.
For more on Rozanne Stevens and her work as a wholefood chef, visit: www.rozannestevens.com.
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