While the air-conditioned nightmare of summer drags on, and the prospect of catching the common cold from perpetual blasts of artificially cooled air becomes more of a worry, you may find yourself adding more vitamin C to your diet. Clearly, the orange is a great source, yet there's a rather inconspicuous alternative out there that will not only add variety to your mealtimes, it will - pound-for-pound - give you a bigger dose of the vitamin you require. Yes, it's the bell pepper (also known as the sweet pepper, capsicum and paprika).
Green peppers contain twice the amount of vitamin C that oranges do, and red peppers can offer up to four times the amount contained in citrus fruit. Usually the difference between green and red is ripeness. Green peppers are younger and subsequently less sweet and more bitter to the taste. As peppers ripen, they turn a variety of colours, from yellow and orange to red, at which stage they become sweeter. But peppers can also change colour according to cultivar, so don't be surprised if you see purple, brown and black peppers on the shelves too. When choosing bell peppers - whatever the colour - the skin should be smooth and firm, without any wrinkles. The stem should be pert, fresh and verdantly green, and the pepper itself should ideally be full and plump, without pitted areas or breaks in the skin.
Once you've selected your bell pepper, you'll only get the full vitamin C benefit from eating it raw. When sliced horizontally, bell peppers make an attractive, flowery, colourful and tasty addition to salads, where they go exceptionally well with cold pasta, onions, anchovies and balsamic vinegar. But even when you're cooking bell peppers, there's no need to incinerate them to a nutrient-free cinder. Stir-fries only require a dash around a hot pan with garlic, ginger and a bit of coriander. If you prefer them well cooked, bell peppers are no less attractive a proposition in curries, spaghetti sauces and on skewers as part of a nice healthy shish kebab. And when it comes to stuffing bell peppers, you're only limited by your imagination.
It's certainly true that while cooked peppers may not be quite as good for you, they become much sweeter with the application of a bit of heat. Roasted peppers have that smoky sweet flavour down to a tee. Slice the tops off your peppers and remove the seeds, then put them in a very hot oven until the skins turns black. Remove the peppers and place them in a plastic bag. The condensation in the bag will loosen the skins, which can then be removed with ease. Let the skinless peppers cool down and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a few slices of grilled halloumi cheese. Suddenly the summer doesn't seem quite so stifling.
Published: August 5, 2008 04:00 AM