February 16, 2005: Headlines: COS - Turkey: COS - Thailand: Cooking: Hot Peppers: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Turkey RPCV Chris Smith extolls the virtues of hot peppers

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Cooking: January 23, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Cooking : February 16, 2005: Headlines: COS - Turkey: COS - Thailand: Cooking: Hot Peppers: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Turkey RPCV Chris Smith extolls the virtues of hot peppers

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Turkey RPCV Chris Smith extolls the virtues of hot peppers

Turkey RPCV Chris Smith extolls the virtues of hot peppers

"I discovered during my Peace Corps days that some Turks shared my dad's enthusiasm for trial by fire. At some point I acquired a liking for hot peppers, not as a means to test others' mettle but on their own merits as sweeteners and seasoners. From enjoying them, it was an easy step to growing them. "

Turkey RPCV Chris Smith extolls the virtues of hot peppers

Good Enough To Eat: Can you take the heat?
Spice up your meals, Thai-style, with zesty Capsicum peppers


Caption: Thai Dragon Hot peppers.

Mention hot peppers to me and memories are triggered. They begin with my college years. No sooner were my brothers and I home from months of bland cafeteria food, than our dad would break out a big jar of round, pickled peppers with a pronounced fiery personality.

I guess it was one of his "welcome home" ceremonies. We'd sit around the table, sweat beading our foreheads, while we made it through the obligatory fireball that demonstrated college had not softened us past reclamation.

Eating in London's Indian restaurants while on foreign study acquainted me with even more incendiary peppers. And I discovered during my Peace Corps days that some Turks shared my dad's enthusiasm for trial by fire.

At some point I acquired a liking for hot peppers, not as a means to test others' mettle but on their own merits as sweeteners and seasoners. From enjoying them, it was an easy step to growing them.

Having just returned from Thailand, a country in love with explosions of flavor, including those set off by its heroically hot peppers, I'm ready to devote a column to the spicier varieties of Capsicum, a genus that includes bell and frying peppers.

Black pepper, including its white and green forms, comes from Piper, a different genus of plants. Thais like and use the heat of black pepper, too, but that will be the subject of another column.

Thais are real connoisseurs of hot peppers. They're part of most dipping sauces and frequently season fish, other seafood, meats and vegetables. If you're not a pepper lover, you can avoid dipping sauces and eat around any suspicious bits of red and green that turn up in dishes. You can concentrate on soups (most of them are mild), omelets and desserts. But with these avoidance maneuvers, you'll miss some of the unique and wonderful quality of Thai cuisine.

My advice, if you visit Thailand, is to toughen up and at least eat the dishes flavored with the less incendiary peppers. Those will be the larger ones -- about the size of the serrano chiles we find in local markets. Most Westerners can manage them. It's the tiny, 1/4-inch, toothpick-thin peppers that are the most memorably mean. Even this hot-pepper lover doesn't eat these tormenters on purpose.

What makes hot peppers hot is a substance called capsaicin. Early in the 20th century, an American scientist named Wilbur Scoville developed a method for measuring capsaicin in peppers. Though his method has been replaced by a more accurate one, "Scoville units" are still used to designate the heat in peppers.

Here are a few reference points: Pure capsaicin is roughly 16,000,000 Scoville units. The hottest pepper measured, a type of habanero called 'Red Savina,' comes in at an impressive 577,000 Scoville units. In contrast, jalapeño rates 2,500 to 5,000 units, serrano 5,000 to 15,000 units and cayenne 30,000 to 50,000 units.

For folks interested in a milder hot pepper, there's the 2006 All-America winner, 'Mariachi,' described in the Burpee catalog as having "just a hint of heat." Anaheim, Ancho, Hungarian Wax, Pizza Pepper and Aci Sivri (a Turkish heirloom) are other possibilities. Though I don't know precisely where they fall on the Scoville scale, they should come in considerably under jalapeño.

Hot peppers, with the exceptions of habanero and fish (an African American heirloom variety), have performed well in my garden. In fact they're usually more productive than my sweet peppers. I suspect habanero and fish peppers need a bit more heat than our summers typically provide; mine have set fruits but most haven't reached close to full size before frost arrives.

Jalapeño, serrano, Hungarian Wax, Aci Sivri, Anaheim, numerous hot paprika varieties and even cayenne have been dependable most years.

For reasons I don't understand, many people believe it's hard to grow peppers. Actually, they're much easier to grow than tomatoes. You don't have to stake, cage or prune them. They don't get late blight, blossom end rot and the other diseases that commonly befall tomatoes. And they don't have fussy cultural requirements.

Don't direct-seed peppers. Instead, set young pepper plants into the garden in June. You wait that long because they are warmth-loving plants that won't make good growth until soil and air warm thoroughly.

They seem to enjoy togetherness. I plant them as close as a foot apart, and they thrive. Fertilize them lightly several times during the growing season and keep them watered. By August you should be enjoying some of the crop. Baste some of the milder varieties, such as Anaheim, Aci Sivri, Pizza Pepper and Mariachi, with olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar and slap them on the barbecue. Grilling them this way brings out their sweetness. Use the hotter varieties to put some panache in your cooking.

Chris Smith, a Master Gardener who lives in Port Orchard, is retired from the WSU Cooperative Extension. Send questions to P.O. Box 4426, South Colby, WA 98384-0426.

When this story was posted in February 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Turkey; COS - Thailand; Cooking; Hot Peppers


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