BY SUMMER STAIR

It’s vegetable season and this year it’s about spicing things up. Peppers, not only add flavor and heat to what you are cooking, but they are packed full of health benefits too.
“The focus has really been on tomatoes the last couple of years,” says Anne Zander an extension agent of family and consumer science at the CSU Extension of Boulder County. “Now more and more people are
focusing toward peppers in their home garden, because they are realizing their benefits.”

Peppers, whether they are big, small, sweet or spicy, are rich in vitamins and minerals. These spicy vegetables are not only high in Vitamin C, but are a great source of beta carotene, potassium, folic acid and fiber.

Aside from their many health-related benefits, they also offer flavor and color to dishes and are easy to use. This versatile vegetable can be eaten raw, cooked, baked, roasted, stewed, pickled and even stuffed. You name it or have a recipe – it can probably be done. And to add to their greatness, peppers, all kinds, grow great in the hot, Colorado climate. Kim Jackson, annuals manager at The Flower Bin in Longmont, says peppers love the sun. “Our climate is known for the hot peppers, especially Anaheim and jalapeno,” she says. “They just love our hot summer days … any kind of pepper does.”

With a little soil amending, a monthly fertilizer, regular watering and six to eight hours of sun, growing a pepper should be easy.

Zander says like any vegetable, adding peppers into your diet is always a good idea. They are full of vitamins and minerals and are low in calories, while filling you up. But she cautions that people new to using peppers should work them into their diet slowly and try all different kinds to discover what you like best. It is also a good idea to make sure to wear gloves when cooking with hot peppers, because the oils can transfer to your hands very easily.
“Be adventurous and start off with a small amount,” Zander says. “Usually the smaller the pepper, the hotter they are.”

Zander says getting creative with peppers is the fun part. While they can easily be cut up and stored in the refrigerator for snacking and cooking, peppers can really be added to any dish. Ideas for fresh peppers include salsas , marinades, vinaigrettes for salads, flavored oils and vinegars.  Just remember the longer they (peppers) sit (in a dish) or in a flavored vinaigrette it will get stronger and spicier,” Zander cautions.“That is why the tasting part is so important.”

While most who are new to peppers begin by adding bell peppers, which are often the least spicy and more sweet, it is easy to start trying other peppers by just substituting one in place of a bell pepper in dishes you like.

For more tips or information on storing, canning or freezing peppers for year round use contact Anne Zander at 303-678-6238 or azander@bouldercounty.org.