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Peppers

July 18, 1985|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

There are now golden peppers and purple peppers, and before long, one will be seeing creamy white peppers as often as their red and green siblings.

Back in the days when I was growing up in the Midwest, our favorite grocery store usually had a good supply of "mangoes" on hand. They were not, of course, mangoes at all. They were simply green peppers. How and why green peppers came to be called mangoes in that part of the country, I don't know. Oddly enough, as I remember it, the beautiful red peppers, which are nothing more than ripened green peppers from the same plants, were properly called sweet bell peppers or red bell peppers. It took years, however, and a move to Hawaii where I met up with the true mango, to break me of the habit of thinking of green peppers as mangoes.

Cooks long have relied on green and red peppers to provide a touch of color as well as flavor to favorite dishes. Today, the selection is much broader. Now there is a veritable rainbow of sweet-pepper choices for anyone in search of colorful vegetables. Brilliant golden bell peppers and even purple ones can be found during the summer months. And before long, one will probably be seeing creamy white sweet peppers almost as often as their more commonplace red and green siblings.

The purple and yellow peppers prevalent now are more or less the same shape as the common red and green peppers; however, the white we have come across is different. It is shaped more like an elongated California chile than the squatty bells. Make no mistake, though, this Dutch import (most of the yellow and purple peppers are Holland-grown also) is definitely a sweet pepper. And like the red, yellow and purple ones, it, too, is a fully mature vegetable.

Although called white, this particular pepper is really more of a cream color. As with its purple and yellow counterparts, it's available through wholesalers who handle specialty produce but is sufficiently new to the market that it may be difficult to find at the retail level. In another year, however, it probably will be as prominent at produce counters as any of the others.

There are a couple of interesting points about these newer sweet peppers. The purple pepper, for instance, is one of those cases where the color is skin-deep only. Cut one open and you quickly find that only the thin outer skin is purple. The inside of the pepper is a bright green. And there's an even greater surprise in store for the cook who elects to cook a purple pepper. When cooked, both the purple skin and bright green interior turn a deep, dark green. It makes one wonder just how plant geneticists do these things.

There are more than just color differences among the various sweet peppers, also. A taste test of the raw vegetables in The Times' Test Kitchen produced a consensus that green peppers do indeed have a somewhat sharp and immature flavor. The familiar red peppers were much sweeter than the green, but considerably less sweet and mellow than the other mature peppers. The purple peppers were sweeter and somewhat softer in flavor than the red but not as sweet as the yellows, which were judged the sweetest of all. Our taste testers even detected a slight citrusy tang, which they liked, in the yellows. The white peppers were very mild, in fact almost bland in flavor.

It should be pointed out that we were being very picky in searching out flavor differences. Most of the peppers varied only slightly in flavor, so there is little problem in using whatever color you prefer in a recipe. Use the purple raw, though, if it's color you're after.

Raw pepper strips make wonderful snacks, with or without dips. They also are excellent when served in an Italian-style recipe. The Italians, who dote on their own very sweet peppers, broil them until the skins are blackened and thus easily peeled. Then they cut them into strips and marinate the tender strips in a rich, herbed olive oil long enough for the peppers to absorb the flavors of the oil. The tangy result often replaces salad in Italy; however, peppers done this way also are wonderful when served as a relish for meats.

Another treatment for peppers that is both unusual and most attractive is our version of a curried chicken and rice salad. This is an excellent choice for a potluck party or a buffet since it tastes as good as it looks.

MOLDED CURRIED

CHICKEN AND

RICE SALAD

1 sweet red pepper

1 yellow pepper

1 green pepper

6 cups cooked and cooled rice

2 1/2 cups cups shredded cooked chicken

1 cup minced celery

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Curry Hollandaise Sauce

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds or pine nuts, optional

Salt

White pepper

Cook peppers in boiling water just until skins begin to loosen. Plunge into ice water at once. Peel peppers, cut in halves lengthwise and remove stem, membranes and seeds. Cut peppers into wide strips lengthwise. Press pepper strips, alternating colors, in bottom and up sides of greased 5-cup ring mold. Set aside while preparing salad.

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