Capsicums are the taste of colour. They originated in South America and in 1585 were taken to Hungary where the red variety became synonymous with Hungarian cooking — in the form of paprika.
Whether they’re green, red, orange, yellow, purple or even white, capsicums — they’re sometimes called bell peppers or sweet peppers — should not be confused with chilli peppers which are usually very much smaller. They are all members of the same family but chilli peppers contain ‘capsaicin’ the ingredient that makes chillies hot.
Beside their different hues, capsicums can vary in shape. There are very long varieties called palermos or king sweeties, as well as mini ones — enough for one bite. Green capsicums aren’t as sweet as the reds and yellows.
These highly nutritious seed pods are excellent cooked or raw in salads. To prepare capsicums, remove the stems, cores, seeds and the thick pale ribs inside. The seeds are not generally hot but they are hard and do not have much mouth appeal.
Capsicums make wonderful receptacles for other foods. Stuff them with corn, savoury rice, chopped vegetables, eggs, cheese and/or minced meats, then bake. They may also be sliced and stir-fried and they add interest to preserves.
An extremely yummy lunch.
2 long palermos (king sweetie) capsicums
100g reduced-salt feta cheese, diced
1 cup shredded courgette
1 small shallot, diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 pitted black olives, sliced
1 teaspoon water
4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: 1 tablespoon capers
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly brush a baking pan with olive oil.
Halve the capsicums lengthwise and remove any seeds and ribs. Cover and microwave for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Brush with a little olive oil.
Fill each capsicum with the cheese, courgette, shallot, oregano and black olives. Whisk the egg and water then drizzle over each capsicum. Sprinkle with the parmesan then season.
Bake for 30 minutes. Garnish with the capers.Serves 4 as a light meal with salad or 2 as a main.
Great with cheese or serve as an accompaniment.
175g assorted coloured sweet mini peppers
2 shallots, peeled and quartered
2 sprigs French tarragon, optional
3/4 cup each: sugar, white vinegar
1/4 cup water
Halve the peppers and remove any seeds. Place in a preserving jar. Add the shallots and the tarragon, if using.
Bring the sugar, vinegar and water to the boil. Simmer for 45 minutes. Pour over the peppers to cover. Seal. Stand until cool, then chill. Allow the flavours to develop for at least 3 days before serving. Fills 1 x 500ml jar.
STIR-FRIED CAPSICUMS WITH CHICKEN
Stir-fry the vegetables in water, not oil.
Chicken: 500g skinned and boned chicken thighs
3 tablespoons each: teriyaki sauce, orange juice
Vegetables: 2 tablespoons water
2 medium yellow capsicums, seeded and sliced
1 courgette, julienned
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 chilli, seeded and sliced
1 cup watercress leaves
1-2 limes or lemons
Brush the chicken with the combined teriyaki sauce and orange juice. Cook under a pre-heated grill — about 5-6 minutes each side — basting often. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the chicken. Thinly slice the chicken.
Heat the water on high in a large non-stick wok or frying pan. Add the capsicums and courgettes and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the onion and chilli and continue stir-frying on high heat for another minute. Add a little extra water, if required.
Add the chicken and watercress and toss to combine. Serve with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. Serves 4.