It's hard to imagine what the cuisines of Asia and Europe were like before Spanish traders arrived in the New World -- native home of the chile. Could an Indian vindaloo or Szechuan stir-fry have existed without a chile's zing? What was a Hungarian goulash without paprika? Or an Italian antipasto without peperoncini?

Today's cooks need trek no farther than the farmers' market or an Asian, Latin, or Caribbean grocery to find a rainbow of peppers in a variety of shapes and sizes. Supermarkets stock such standards as jalapeno and serrano peppers year-round. But another great source of chiles -- even closer by -- can be the home garden.

Growing Chiles

Whether you crave the burn of bird peppers or the slight sizzle of poblanos, hot peppers make delicious and ornamental additions to gardens. For the best variety, grow your own plants from seed, beginning indoors, eight weeks before the last frost (up to 12 weeks in colder climates). Sown seeds require heat, so place them on a heat mat in a warm area (minimum 70 degrees), and always use warm water when soil feels dry. Seeds should germinate in seven to 15 days. Transplant into the garden when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees, sitting plants in full sun. In desert areas, afternoon shade prevents fruit scorch, recognizable by purplish blotches. Avoid overwatering (which results in milder peppers) by spreading a three-inch layer of bark mulch over the roots. Low-nitrogen fertilizer, applied every three weeks until fruit sets, will result in more prolific yields.

Chile Glossary

Stuffed Marinated Hot Red Cherry Peppers

Rustic Guacamole

Crispy Pork-Stuffed Anaheim Chiles

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
March 4, 2011
These look SO good! A great way to enjoy year round!