Now that the tomatoes and most other summer vegetable plants have died in our garden, our peppers are still thriving!
Although peppers are New World vegetables and became part of the Mediterranean food basket quite late –sometime in mid-18th century— we very happily adopted them as our own and it is hard to imagine how we did without them.
We even created our own kinds of hot and sweet peppers, different in each country: this northern Greek ‘Florina’ pepper and the Spanish Ñora are sweet and delicious, while the various Middle Easter mildly hot Aleppo or Maraş pepper flakes are the perfect flavoring for all the dishes of the area.
“…the chili plant may have contributed to the disappearance of the powerfully spiced status dishes of the Renaissance and Baroque. The chili was cheap and easy to grow. It did not have to be imported from across the seas, passing from rapacious middleman to rapacious middleman and increasing in price every time it changed hands. Not being expensive, it could not be a status symbol. Peasants in decent Mediterranean climate could grow it and feast on flavors their ancestors could not have afforded to dream of,” wrote anthropologist Sophie Coe in her marvelous book America’s First Cuisines.
The ‘Florina’ long peppers are our most sought-after variety, originally grown in the area around the eponymous town of northern Greece. The name implied good quality sweet red peppers, although now it is used for any kind of canned roasted peppers. Fortunately Naoumidis family continues to cultivate in Agios Panteleimonas, Florina, the original peppers, saving the seeds each season. Their peppers are charcoal-grilled and peeled by hand, without using water to facilitate the process –but compromise the flavor. Naoumidis‘ jars of roasted peppers are absolutely delicious! Unfortunately they disappear fast, since each fall’s production is usually sold-out both in Greece and abroad!
Besides adding peppers to sauces, fry, and stuff with rice, vegetables, meat, or fish. I love the combination of flavors created by olive-oil-sautéed peppers and use them in my Eggplant, Pepper and Parsley Spread and in my simple Tyrokafteri (Feta and Pepper Spread) that can be made with either red or green sweet peppers. In the summer, when we have our vine-ripened peppers I simply like to grill them for my favorite Grilled Sweet Peppers with Two Dressings.
See also my Flat Bread Topped with Peppers and Feta