New This Month

How to Cook with Fresh Peppers, from Mild Bells to Super-Spicy Habaneros

  • Photos by Lennart Weibull
  • Recipes by Greg Lofts

From cocktails and appetizers to pasta and preserves, these recipes show off the fruit’s full range of flavors.

Give Cocktails a Kick

To start these serrano-mint margaritas, roast a serrano pepper (a staple of Mexican cuisine), then muddle it with sugar and mint; the fruit releases liquid to dissolve the sugar, so you don’t have to make simple syrup. In another twist, the glasses get rimmed with pink salt and sumac, which is mellower than lime. The pink lady is a habanero-hibiscus sour, a cross between agua de Jamaica—a Mexican hibiscus iced tea—and the Peruvian pisco sour. Habaneros have a floral quality that complements the tart hibiscus, and emulsified egg whites create the cloud of foam on top.

Cook a Piquant Pasta

The Italian classic spaghetti peperonata, enhanced with tuna and olives, makes palate-pleasing use of relatively tame bell and banana peppers. Cooked low and slow, they turn melt-in-your-mouth tender and sweet—and when sliced thin, they’ll twirl around a fork with the noodles. Almost everything in this quick dish—jarred tuna, olives, raisins—is a pantry item, and you can even substitute canned tomatoes for fresh cherry. Finish with sliced finger pepper, popular in India, as a swap-in for red-pepper flakes.

Say Cheese

The stuffed, battered, and fried poblanos in chiles rellenos divorciados are a sensory revelation: crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, and tingling with mild spice. The secret is to separate and whip the egg whites for the coating, which results in a shatteringly light, souffléd texture. Divorciados refers to the separated salsas—a red one made from roasted tomatoes, and a tangier green one from tomatillos. Fresh poblanos are usually sold green, which indicates a stage of ripeness, not flavor. To test for heat, cut off a bit and touch it to your tongue.

Wake Up Greens

There’s a welcome surprise in this blistered shishito-pepper salad: cool, creamy honeydew melon. It melds with the crunchy cucumbers and mild zebra tomatoes, and offsets the stove top–charred peppers. Shishitos, which are Japanese in origin, range from harmless to pass-the-milk hot. About one out of every 10 is a scorcher—just often enough to make life interesting.

Ignite the Night

How do you make dinner guests deliriously happy? Greet them with bite-size jalapeño-bacon johnnycakes. The batter balances sweet and hot peppers: You can substitute fragrant Fresnos for the jalapeños; or Anaheims, which have a juicy, thick flesh, for bells. Or try cherry peppers, which hit both spicy and floral notes. Dollops of avocado-cilantro cream put out the fire, and a sprinkle of crunchy chopped raw peppers stands in for pico de gallo.

Simmer Them Down

When you have a bumper crop of both corn and peppers, stir them into a shrimp maque choux, or Cajun succotash. The key to its creamy broth is corn milk, scraped from the cobs after the kernels are cut off. Then experiment with different mild-to-medium-spicy peppers. Add padrons, which are like Spanish shishitos, small and ranging in heat; or toss in sweet habaneros, which look just like the traditional four-alarm variety but are surprisingly fruity. (This crossbreed can be found in some farmers’ markets.) When you improvise this way, the dish tastes new every time.

Indulge All Year

Preserved peppers enliven dishes long after their fall harvest. Hot-pepper relish (top left), made from chopped fresh chiles, sugar, and cider vinegar, tastes amazing mixed into mayo, burger patties, or deviled eggs. Whole pickled peppers are great for Bloody Marys, soups, and stews (and have less sting than sliced, since the skin hasn’t been punctured); sliced ones give sandwiches, pizza, or scrambled eggs a jolt. And pepper-mint jelly (far right) brightens meats and rich fishes like salmon and swordfish. But the easiest way to make peppers last is to hang whole ones to dry on a string, like so, then crush a bit over pizza, or toss pieces into Szechuan stir-fries.