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Bell is a pod type of the annuum species. They are multi-stemmed with a habit that is subcompact tending toward prostrate, growing between 1 and 2 ½ feet tall. The leaves are medium-green, ovate to lanceolate, smooth, and are about 3 inches long and 1 ½ inches wide. The flower corollas are white with no spots. The pods are pendant, 3- or 4-lobed, blocky, and blunt. Their immature color is dark green, usually maturing to red, but sometimes to yellow, orange, or purple. The pungent variety, 'Mexi-Bell' has only a slight bite, ranging from 100 to 400 Scoville Units.
Bells are the most commonly grown commercial peppers in the United States, with approximately 65,000 acres under cultivation in the U.S. Mexico follows with about 22,000 acres, and most of their bells are exported to the U.S. More than 100 varieties of bell peppers have been bred, and we have chosen our selections on the basis of color, pungency, disease resistance, and availability to the home grower.
Bells grow well in sandy loams with good drainage. The hotter varieties are usually grown in the home garden. The growing period ranges from 80 to 100 days, depending on whether it is picked green or at the mature color. A single plant produces 10 to 20 pods. A recommended variety is 'Mexi-Bell.'
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Big Bell Peppers at a Swiss Farmers Market
Bells are often used in the fresh form, cut up in salads, or stuffed with meats and baked. Pungent bells are also used in fresh salsas. Also, they are a common ingredient in Cajun and Creole cookery. All varieties can be preserved by freezing.
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Recipe: Four-Pepper Garlic Chicken
This recipe was developed by chef Ed Arace of Panama Red's Beach Bar and Seafood Grille in Nashville, Tennessee, who comments: "I couldn't cook without peppers or hot sauce--even in my delicate dishes a little dash of sauce or a small amount of peppers will enhance it without overpowering it." This poultry dish, however, is not delicate but rather robust.
- ¼ cup diced onion
- ¼ cup diced green bell pepper
- ¼ cup diced red bell pepper
- ¼ cup diced celery
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup sliced mushrooms
- 1 Tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 2 Scotch bonnet (habanero) chiles, stems removed, seeded, and finely minced
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 fresh cayenne chile (or other hot variety), stem removed, seeded, and finely minced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 ½ pounds boned and skinned chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch squares
- Flour for dredging
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons cooking sherry
- 3 cups cooked wild or white rice
- ¼ cup sliced green onions for garnish
Sauté the onion, bell peppers, celery, garlic, mushrooms, ginger, and Scotch bonnet in a large skillet in ¼ cup of the oil for about 3 minutes. Add the cayenne and the soy sauce and cook for 2 minutes more.
Roll the chicken pieces in flour and, in another skillet, fry them in the remaining oil until brown, about 5 minutes. Drain the pieces on paper towels and keep warm.
To the sauted vegetables, add the chicken stock, sugar, and lime juice and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch to the sherry, mix well, and add it to the vegetables, continuing to cook over medium heat. Add the chicken and stir constantly until thickened.
Divide the rice equally among 4 plates, serve the chicken around it, and garnish with the green onions.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Hot
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