At first I was skeptical of the colorful mini peppers packaged in the clamshell at the grocery store. I can be wary of produce not sold from crates at farmers markets, and these glossy, firm, petite yellow, red and orange babies looked just too plastic-perfect and remarkably un-heirloom to be any good. But eventually the mini-me cuteness and a giant, bargain-priced bag proved too tempting.
The little peppers turned out to be as fun as they look. Not only are they honeyed as the name implies (they are marketed as both Sweet Mini Peppers and Veggie Sweet Peppers), their flesh is tender and they are practically seedless. Tasty cooked or raw, you can eat the peppers whole, and when roasted or grilled, the skin is so thin it needn't be removed.
So what exactly are mini peppers? According to Robert Schueller of Melissa's produce, the minis are a hybridized sweet pepper. Bred for smallness, sweetness, lack of seeds and thin skin, the peppers are not miniature bell peppers. The red, orange and yellow peppers are grown in Mexico in the winter and spring and in California in the summer and fall. And my initial reluctance? I guess I'm not the only cook who eschewed veggie sweets. Schuller tells me that even though the peppers have been on the market for about six years, they are just now beginning to catch on. But he says that's because consumers fear they might be hot, not because they look gimmicky.
The mini sweet peppers taste great grilled with olive oil and sprinkled with crumbled feta or goat cheese. They are also very good in salads, like the Spinach Salad with Grilled Shrimp and Peppers included in Salad for Dinner.
Spinach Salad with Grilled Shrimp and Peppers
From: Jeanne Kelley
Note:Serve with warm pita or flat bread.
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, pressed
8 ounces mixed mini bell peppers
8 cups baby spinach leaves
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 Persian cucumbers, sliced into rounds
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Mediterranean Lemon Dressing (see recipe)
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1. Combine the shrimp, olive oil, and garlic in a bowl. Cover and chill 1 hour or overnight.
2. Prepare a grill to medium-high heat. Add the peppers to the shrimp and stir to coat with olive oil. Grill the shrimp and peppers until browned and tender, turning once or twice, about 6 minutes. Transfer the shrimp and peppers to a plate.
3. In a very large bowl, combine the spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion with the Mediterranean Lemon Dressing and toss to coat. Add the warm shrimp and peppers and toss lightly. Divide the salad among plates. Sprinkle the salads with feta cheese and oregano leaves. Garnish the salads with lemon wedges and serve.
Mediterranean Lemon Dressing
From: Jeanne Kelley
Note: Tahini is a sesame seed paste similar in texture to peanut butter. A touch of it adds a hint of nutty flavor and a creamy consistency to the dressing. Most people are familiar with tahini as an addition to hummus. Look for it at Middle Eastern markets and health foods stores.
Makes: About 2/3 cup
1 tablespoon tahini
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Combine the tahini, garlic, and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the lemon juice, then the olive oil. (Dressing can be made 1 week ahead. Cover the dressing and refrigerate.)
Jeanne Kelley is a Los Angeles cook and cookbook author, who also writes at Jeanne Kelley Kitchen. Follow her on Twitter @jeannek232