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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Anna Berrill

What can I do with bitter green peppers?

Green peppers work very well on barbecued skewers, and not just because they help to hold the protein in place.
Green peppers work very well on barbecued skewers, and not just because they help to hold the protein in place. Photograph: clubfoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Supermarket packs of peppers always include a green one – nasty, bitter things that I only use in minestrone. What else can I do with them?
Mel, Evesham, Worcestershire
This is all too familiar to Luis Gonzalez-Castro, founder of London-based Cuban supper club Cocina Cuca, who “doesn’t love their raw, bitter flavour, either”. That said, green peppers have always featured in his family’s cooking, so Gonzalez-Castro has “learned to appreciate them” – and you can, too, Mel! The road to recovery might start with aji relleno, a favourite of Gonzalez-Castro’s father: “He cuts the tops off a few peppers, gently coats in olive oil, then fills with picadillo [a mix of mince, herbs, raisins and olives].” Into the oven they go and, “oddly, the results are astounding. The peppers soften in the steam and, together with the sweetness of the raisins and saltiness of the olives, the bitterness evaporates.”

Another who suggests that Mel should, er, get stuffed is Maunika Gowardhan, pepper enthusiast and author of recently published Tandoori Home Cooking: “My mother would do this with spicy, crushed potatoes, and it’s so good,” she says. First heat some oil in a pan, “stir in asafoetida, cumin seeds, green chillies, ground coriander, chilli powder, and turmeric, then add [boiled and] crushed potatoes and season.” You’ll also want some mango powder “for tang” and chopped coriander, before piling the lot into halved green peppers brushed with oil and grilling them. “They still have some bite when you cut into them, but you get this lovely, charred flavour.”

Skewers are another contender to cure a green pepper plight. These, Gowardhan suggests, could be threaded with murgh malai tikka (for which chicken is marinated in the likes of garlic, ginger, chilli, malt vinegar and yoghurt) or with paneer (“infused with saffron, cardamom and fennel”) alongside sliced green peppers: “They help secure the meat or paneer, while also adding even more flavour.” Eggs, as ever, are another good shout: “An omelette is a very good way to use green peppers,” says chef, restaurateur and Guardian contributor José Pizarro. “Caramelise onions in olive oil, then stir in [sliced] potatoes and peppers, add plenty of salt and pepper, and fry.” Tip in beaten eggs and cook until they just start to set. Flip (with the help of a plate), cook on the other side for a few minutes more and you won’t notice any bitterness, Pizarro says reassuringly.

Then there’s that perennial weeknight saviour, the stir-fry. “If you’re using soy and honey to get that sweet-savoury mix, green peppers make a lovely addition,” says Paul Ainsworth, chef-owner of The Ainsworth Collection in north Cornwall. Otherwise, throw caution to the wind and lean into the bitterness, he says: “Peppers can add flavour and body to the right dishes because of their slight bitterness – they’re great in a green tomato chutney, for instance.”

Miguel Barclay, author of the One Pound Meals series, meanwhile, goes a step further: “Make a dish that can’t be made without them – something that uses their unique taste as an advantage: a Sloppy Giuseppe pizza, say.” And if all else fails, he adds, deploy covert tactics. “Hide them,” he says, with sauces being the obvious vehicle: “In Mexican salsas, perhaps, or put softened green peppers in salsa verde or chimichurri – they add a beautiful, earthy tone, and the salsa hides those bitter notes that so many people hate.”

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