I wanted to start a thread about growing peppers with unique flavours and culinary uses. I guess, said another way, I don’t intend for this to be a thread about hot peppers exclusively. I’m interested in peppers that you may be smoking or roasting, drying, using on a cheese board, preserving/pickling… basically uses other than hot sauce or salsa.
I find shopping for pepper seed really challenging, but I’d like to get into the habit of growing peppers for specific uses in the kitchen. On my list to grow for 2022:
-Aleppo: Dried and powdered, used in cooking and as a condiment. It adds a bright, subtle heat to dishes.
-Urfa: Same uses as Aleppo. It is an earthier, smokier heat so I use it in dishes that need to stay on the funky or umami side.
^ Both of these are readily available at stores, so I may skip growing these to make space for “harder to find” peppers
-Negro de valle: This has a beef ramen like flavour. I want to keep this on hand for broths and sauces. I only got a few peppers from my plant last season but they were promising.
-Round of Hungary: I adore this one for fresh eating and paired with cheese - they’d be great roasted but I think they’re too small for stuffing. I think this is classified as a cherry or pimento type? It doesn’t have any heat but is richly flavoured.
I know I’ve ordered some Hungarian paprika pepper types, I will update this thread again when they’re delivered.
I have found most peppers taste the same to me. The difference is the heat. When people say I taste hints of x in that pepper I have tried it and never did. I thought Aleppo was a species that is going extinct due to some wars. Kind of surprised every store has them.
I like hot peppers and was raised on a lot of spicy Mexican cuisine in S. CA. My wife was raised in Ethiopia where most meals have at least one dish that is extremely hotly spiced. Neither of us cares for Habanero peppers because we can’t really taste the peppers beyond the heat.
My main go-to is various forms of jalapenos for heat, but I’m still trying to find a fairly hot Cayenne pepper I used to grow that was extremely productive of large fruit on big plants. I recently discovered a hot pepper variety that my wife swears is the pepper used in Ethiopian berbere, the curry of Ethiopia. Sadly, I lost the bag they came in, apparently, but at least saved seeds so I’m not out of luck.
For sweet peppers, what I seek is high sugar to go with pepper flavor, along with high productivity in our short seasons (compared to where I grew up and where my wife did). I don’t bother growing any variety besides Carmen these days, because it is so much more productive than any pepper I’ve every grown, and probably the sweetest. It is an Italian horn type, so doesn’t produce as much meat as thick walled bell types per fruit, but my wife would much rather roast hem than any other pepper I’ve ever grown. Raves are unanimous when she uses them in dishes at parties. At the end of the season, when I’m done dicing all the red ripe peppers I can use until I have fresh ones again a friend comes and harvests bushels for a nearby food bank. He’s a skilled gardener with lots of gardening friends but has never seen more productivity from a plot of peppers than what he finds in my garden.
My wife plants lots of peppers, but my favorite sweet pepper is Jimmy Nardello. She likes them because they are cold hardy, productive/prolific, and have good disease resistance. They are my favorite because of their rich flavor that really comes out when fried. They also have a convenient shape and size and freeze well without losing flavor. We didn’t get enough in the ground this past year, but I have fond previous winter memories of just reaching into the freezer in the morning day after day and pulling out some Jimmy Nardellos to use in an omelet.
I agree Carmen is a my favorite for a sweet pepper. The only negative is that it is only good when completely red. Escamillo is good if yellow color is wanted. I’d like to hear other recommendations for sweet pepper. I gave up on bell peppers since in my climate production was always low.
Good thread! There’s so much diversity in pepper flavors. I’ve always been more excited about different peppers than different tomatoes. I would highly recommend some of the Mexican drying types, as they are all like unique spices.
Guajillo (dried Mirasol peppers) is probably the most common, and makes up a lot of the distinctive flavor of generic ‘Mexican’ seasoning along with cumin. It’s a bit pedestrian in that application, but you can do a lot of amazing cooking with them. Very bright, fruity flavors. I’ve successfully grown them from seeds from grocery store guajillos.
Ancho and mulato are both forms of dried poblanos. Ancho is dried when green and mulato is dried when ripe. These two are probably my favorites, lending deep earthy and dried fruit flavors to whatever dish you’re cooking. The dried fruit is much more pronounced in mulato. Mulato also has flavors of chocolate, licorice, cherry, and tobacco.
Pasilla chiles (dried chilaca chile)also have excellent dried fruit flavors and their own special thing going on. Excellent in all sorts of stewed dishes. I’ve used it to transformative effect in Italian tomato sauces.
All of these are fairly mild, with heat ranging from almost nothing to pleasantly tingly. I usually use then in stews or beans, but they can be added to just about any dish if reconstituted first. I also highly recommend toasting the chiles in a dry hot pan or in hot oil for a few seconds before reconstituting in water. It really wakes up the flavors. There is a pronounced difference in flavor between toasting dry and toasting in oil that you will definitely notice in the finished dish. Both are good, they’re just different. It’s also a good idea to use more than one kind.
Of course, these are all cheap and easy enough to buy already dried, but they can be fun projects to try growing and drying them.
Check out this book for more on these chiles and how to use them.
I don’t understand the obsession with heat if it’s too hot it takes away from the flavor. For example aji dulce has the flavor of habanero without the heat. The flavor is more pronounced imo because the heat isn’t in your face. This nursery has a bunch of peppers they grow and ship with good descriptions
@GeorgiaGent right?? I don’t mind a little heat but if it’s all I’m tasting then I just get irritated. Of course, some of that might depend on a person’s Scoville tolerance - but why lock interesting flavors behind so much heat? Not everyone will be able to enjoy it detect them. I’ll check out their site.
@jcguarneri I love poblanos and anchos! I have not seen dried mulatto up here, maybe I’m not looking closely enough or maybe I need to make a trip to a Mexican grocery. That pepper just hits the sweet spot at so many stages - it’s another one I don’t grow myself because it’s easy enough to find, but sometimes I wonder if I should. I grew it one summer and the variety was super productive, I constantly had poblanos on hand and was always cooking with them.
I didn’t know the trick about throwing them in oil. I’ll have to give that a try. And I’ll have to look for that cookbook! I enjoy Mexican food immensely but beyond pozole I don’t experiment much at home.
@alan jalapeños are real work horses. When I need to add heat to a dish without any other expectations, I will reach for a jalapeño or a serrano. The only thing I don’t like about jalapeños sometimes is they sometimes (in my opinion) have this tendency to be kinda… skunky. Maybe that’s just residual “vegetal green pepper” taste peeking through the heat.
I haven’t grown Carmen. I will look for it. I grew Apple last year and didn’t think it was especially interesting. Sweet peppers, similar to hot peppers, sometimes seem pretty one-note to me.
I almost never eat green Jals and don’t like their flavor as much. Once they start to get a little color they usually taste good to me- they don’t have to be pure red at harvest to reach highest quality for my taste- but most that I harvest are fully red.
Incidentally, for Asian cuisine and for when I’m making my own version of a jerk sauce I love to use powdered Thai peppers. Speaking of bang for the buck- one healthy plant provides enough heat for a year of very spicy cooking- at least for the Asian cooking we do. My wife is skilled at producing Indian dishes.
@alan because I don’t grow them, it’s so easy to forget they also ripen to red. I should try them at that stage. I don’t really want to grow them so I’ll have to look around. I like cooking Indian and Himalayan dishes, too. I think serrano is probably the upper limit of my heat tolerance currently but I should give Thai chili another time. It’s been a few years since I’ve had them – the last time was when I put my husband in charge of making dinner that night but failed to tell him how many he should use in a stir fry. He thought because they were small he should use a lot of them.
This all reminds me of another pepper story. An old coworker of mine used to work at a nursery. One summer he was trying to help a customer who wanted to grow red bell peppers. He started by making recommendations, showing her some plants - some already had fruit setting and she refused to buy them. She said she didn’t want to buy them because she didn’t think they were labelled correctly. Apparently she had bought plants there the previous summer and was told they would be “red peppers” but she only got “green peppers”. He thought maybe this was because they didn’t have the right growing conditions, enough time to ripen, etc and started provide these explanations but it only made her more upset. She didn’t believe him that leaving the pepper on the plant to ripen is how it changed colour, she thought the colour should be apparent immediately when the pepper started growing. Ho boy.
Good topic. I grew Aleppo peppers last season. Not many but about 6 plants in containers. I like their flavor and warmth. Yes, I can find the ground powder but not the whole pepper. One of my favorite uses for them whole is to pickle them and enjoy with a meal.