Browse through recipes for organic Mexican, Thai, Indian or Vietnamese cuisine, and you’ll likely see chili peppers listed as a key ingredient. It surprises many organic foodies to learn that fresh chili peppers are a nutritional best bet: They’re rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, and some studies have found that capsaicin—the natural substance that gives chilies their spicy kick—may help reduce cholesterol levels.
Several types of organic chili peppers are available at your local natural foods market, each with a distinctive color and heat level. Anaheim chilies, which this week’s Organic Authority Cooking School recipe calls for, are the most common variety found in the United States. They may be green or red (usually green), mild to moderately hot. Poblanos and jalapeños are hotter, while serrano and habañero peppers are the true scorchers. Chipotles (dried, smoked jalapeños) have become incredibly popular in recent years for their smoky flavor and medium heat.
Pick a Pepper
Fresh chilies are available year-round, so you can enjoy organic main dishes throughout the seasons. When buying chilies, make sure they’re firm, with shiny, unwrinkled skins. If you notice black or soft spots, pick another pepper. Unwashed peppers may be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks if you wrap them in a paper towel and check them regularly for loss of freshness. Avoid storage in a plastic bag, which accelerates spoilage.
The most important caveat when cooking with fresh chili peppers is to practice proper preparation techniques to avoid burns. Capsaicin can burn your hands, so always wear rubber gloves when chopping. Wash peppers before slicing them and removing their seeds and ribs—and always wash your hands thoroughly after touching chilies. Avoid touching your eyes or other mucous membranes.
Helpful tip: If you soak fresh chili peppers in cold water 1 hour before using them, they’ll lose some of their heat.