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Sweet peppers are their best in late summer

In most parts of the United States, tomatoes say summer and squash screams fall. Those are easy. But what's the season for peppers? They always seem to be available at the grocery store and never arouse the fervor seen for other seasonal treats, like peaches or strawberries. So let me tell you, bell peppers are at their best in late summer. Right now.

I know this because an increasing number of varieties are front and center at the market. Purple bell peppers have joined the usual red, green, orange and yellow. Baskets of tiny sweet peppers about the size of cherries are on display, which are now in my kitchen awaiting culinary inspiration.

But before the debut of the really tiny peppers, there were baskets of these baby sweet peppers, most about 3 or 4 inches in length and in shades of yellow and orange. I immediately decided these would be stuffed.

Roasting the peppers softens their edges and concentrates their sweetness. Stuffing them with quinoa and chorizo came to mind first, and from there cotija cheese, lime and cilantro were natural additions. Cotija is crumbly and salty. It browns nicely and only slightly melts. Try feta if you're looking for a substitute. Queso fresco if you'd like something that melts more.

To use up all of the quinoa mixture, I also roasted a couple of poblanos, but large bell peppers would be great. The poblanos packed a lot more heat than the small orange and yellow ones. So much heat that I later regretted not wearing gloves while handling them. I tried dipping my hand in milk to soothe the burn. Then, vodka. Absinthe. Half and half. Vaseline. None of it quite worked. Poblanos are not as sleepy as they seem. So, learn from my mistake. Or stick with the sweet peppers. They taste their best now through November.

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be contacted at alittlesaffron@gmail.com.

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Baby Sweet Peppers With Quinoa and Chorizo

You can use any sweet pepper you like, but I liked these baby peppers for their smaller size and portability. Adding two more large peppers used up the rest of the quinoa and chorizo mixture. Double or triple the recipe to serve a crowd or turn this appetizer into dinner. The quinoa mixture can be made ahead and stored in the fridge; just gently reheat but reserve the cilantro and lime juice until you're ready to serve.

10 small sweet peppers (about 4 inches long), halved lengthwise and seeds removed

2 poblano or large bell peppers, also halved lengthwise and seeds removed, optional but they use up the rest of the quinoa mixture

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 links fresh chorizo, casing removed

1 shallot, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup cooked quinoa

A handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

¼ cup crumbled cotija cheese, plus more for the end (see note)

Juice of 1 lime

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Arrange peppers on a large baking sheet. Drizzle peppers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until softened and charred at the edges, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a skillet to medium-high heat. Saute the chorizo until cooked through, using a wooden spoon to break apart and crumble the meat, 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chorizo to a bowl or plate. Add the shallot to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium low. Saute for 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir the chorizo back in and take it off the heat.

In a medium bowl, toss together the quinoa, chorizo mixture, cilantro, cotija cheese, and fresh lime juice. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

Use a small spoon to stuff the peppers with the quinoa mixture. Sprinkle with extra cheese. Pop the baking sheet back into the oven under the broiler setting for a minute or so, just long enough to slightly melt or brown the cheese. Serve.

Note: Cotija is a salty Mexican cheese used as an accent to most dishes because it does not melt well. As it ages, it harden and can be grated like parmesan. When using it in the softer form, you could substitute feta.

Serves 2 to 3.

Source: Ileana Morales

Sweet peppers are their best in late summer 09/16/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 16, 2013 6:07pm]
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