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Published June 22, 2012, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Grilled peppers add spice to your menus

“Mom, this is the first balanced meal I’ve had in days. It’s really good,” my 17-year-old son commented. “Yes, these peppers are great!” my 14-year-old daughter exclaimed as she dished more onto her plate.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, this is the first balanced meal I’ve had in days. It’s really good,” my 17-year-old son commented.

“Yes, these peppers are great!” my 14-year-old daughter exclaimed as she dished more onto her plate.

“Well, the chicken is good,” my 8-year-old daughter replied as she separated the green peppers from the chicken. She eyed her siblings and began examining the red peppers with interest, though.

As I served myself grilled red and green peppers, summer squash, rice and chicken, I thought about our busy summer schedule.

For the past several days, my son and I have had the opposite schedule. I leave for work before he awakens, and he leaves for extracurricular activities by midafternoon before I arrive home.

He has been packing his own cold dinner.

Based on his comment, I was wondering what food he had packed for himself.

Our grilled dinner was a family effort, but it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. My son and I cut the vegetables, my husband grilled the food, and I cooked some rice. My daughters set the table.

“Mom, isn’t a red pepper a green pepper that has ripened? I remember our green peppers turned red last year,” my older daughter commented as we continued eating.

“Yes, that’s right. Red peppers are one of the best sources of vitamin C, too,” I added.

Bell peppers are mild-flavored, highly nutritious foods that are available in various colors. We commonly find green, red, orange and yellow peppers in stores, but purple, blue or brown varieties are grown, too. In fact, they all begin green and develop their color as they ripen.

Red bell peppers become sweeter as they mature. Some of the nutrients also become more concentrated as the peppers change color. Red bell peppers have 11 times the amount of beta carotene as green peppers.

Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A by our body, and it helps keep our skin and eyes healthy, among its many functions.

Red peppers are a vitamin C powerhouse. Vitamin C helps form a protein used to maintain healthy cartilage, skin and blood vessels. Vitamin C also has antioxidant effects, which may reduce our risk for cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Vitamin C is not stored by our body, so we need daily sources of this nutrient.

Add some peppers to your diet. You can raise pepper plants in a container garden or traditional garden quite easily, or you can purchase them year-round in the grocery store.

When choosing peppers, look for firm peppers that are heavy for their size. Skip the peppers with bruises, cuts or soft areas. Store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water right before using them.

Although you can cut up a pepper in more than one way, this is my favorite method: After rinsing the pepper, cut a circle around the top edge of the pepper. Pull the top off and remove the seeds. Look inside the pepper to see the white “ribs” and slice the pepper by following the ribs. Your pepper should be in several pieces now. Next, slice off the white ribs and then proceed to cut into strips or pieces that suit your chosen recipe.

You can try peppers in a variety of meals and snacks. They add color and nutrition to salads, sandwiches, stir-fry, fajitas, salsa, hummus (a chickpea-based dip) and omelets. Serve a plate of sliced veggies with your favorite veggie dip. You can stuff peppers with a meat and spiced rice mixture, then bake them for a delicious entree.

Try grilling peppers. You may want to invest in a “slotted” grilling pan to help prevent the vegetable pieces from falling through the grates. Grilled peppers take on a smoky flavor, and the natural sugars caramelize with the high heat, which heightens their natural sweetness.

Enjoy this easy recipe adapted from one provided by the Utah State University Extension Service. Experiment a little. Try adding some summer squash and mushrooms and some of your favorite spices.


Sauteed (or Grilled) Peppers and Onions

2 tablespoons olive oil (or use canola or sunflower oil)*

2 large red bell peppers cut into strips

1 large green bell pepper cut into strips

1 large onion, cut into strips

Salt, pepper, garlic powder or seasoned salt (optional)

To prepare on a stovetop: Heat oil in skillet and then add peppers and onions.

Cook until softened and serve immediately as a side dish or as part of fajitas.

To grill in a slotted grill pan: Prepare vegetables and toss with oil and seasonings. Heat grill, then place in a grill pan. Alternatively, thread chunks of the veggies onto kebab sticks. Allow to cook for five to 10 minutes or until softened. Serve immediately.

(*)You can substitute zesty Italian salad dressing for the oil when grilling vegetables.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 100 calories, 9 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 3 g of fiber and 5 milligrams of sodium (without added salt).


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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