Peppers are tender, warm-season vegetables, but here in Spain they grow prolifically during much of the year. Peppers are as easy to grow as tomatoes.
The plants are best started from seeds indoors and then transplanted into the garden after the soil and air have warmed in the spring. The plants cannot tolerate frost and do not grow well in cold, wet soil. When night temperatures are below 50° to 55°F, the plants grow slowly, the leaves may turn yellow and the flowers drop off.
Peppers may be harvested at any size desired. Green bell varieties, however, are usually picked when they are fully grown and mature at 3-4 inches long. When the Peppers are mature, they break easily from the plant. Less damage is done to the plants, however, if the fruits are cut rather than pulled off. Bell Peppers may be left on the plant to develop their full flavour and turn to red, yellow, orange or brown, or they may be harvested green and immature. Some coloured Peppers should be harvested before actually ripening, before they turn red. There is a vast range of other garden peppers (pimiento, tabasco, cayenne, chilli and paprika) which may be grown for food, spices or as ornamental fruits. Always exercise caution when handling hot Peppers, because shin, noses and eyes may become painfully irritated. Plastic or rubber gloves may be helpful when picking or handling Hot Peppers.
Sweet green bell-shaped Peppers are the most popular garden variety. Left to ripen, they turn red, purple, orange or yellow and gain various levels of sweetness depending on the variety. Although the paler green and yellow tapering varieties have more flavour, all Sweet Peppers are similar in flavour and texture. They are crisp and refreshing raw, and pleasantly assertive when cooked to tenderness.
Chilli Peppers are famous throughout the world from the fiery cuisines of Mexico, India, Thailand and Africa to the subtle flavour enhancement of the most delicate dishes. The hot varieties can also be picked at any colour stage, but are hottest if allowed to fully ripen. Some Chilli Peppers turn bright red, which is more often an indication of ripeness rather than hotness. The burning sensation is attributed to chemical compounds called capsaicinoids, which are stored in the light-coloured veins on the walls and surrounding the seeds. Capsaicin acts on the pain receptors in the mouth, not the taste buds.
In general, all Peppers are a good source of vitamin A and C and the red ones are bursting with these two antioxidants which neutralize free radicals in the body fluids reducing the risk of disease. Free radicals are naturally produced when the body uses oxygen and unless they are neutralized, they cause cell damage, which may lead to health problems such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer.
Wash Peppers just before using them. Peppers, both sweet and hot, are delicious raw, grilled or added to cooked preparations and roasting Peppers brings out a totally different taste. Grill or roast the Peppers until the skins have blackened, then place in a plastic bag. Once the Peppers have cooled, the skins will then slip off easily. Slice cooked Peppers and marinade in olive oil and seasoning to serve in salads or pasta sauce or turn into a purée. Peppers are also typically used in ratatouille and whole Peppers can be stuffed with minced meat, rice or couscous. The most popular home preservation method is pickling, but chopped Peppers freeze well without blanching and once thawed they still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in uncooked preparations.