Peppers add pizzazz to summertime sandwiches

When choosing chili peppers, produce maven Robert Schueller says it’s useful to know that they get hotter as they get old.

Chef Tom Fraker serving roasted butternut squash and red chile pepper soup. (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Chef Tom Fraker serving roasted butternut squash and red chile pepper soup.
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
At a party to introduce The Great Pepper Cookbook at Melissa’s Produce in Los Angeles, we sampled dishes from the book that are perfect for summertime suppers.
Among the dishes we tasted, there were several that we plan to prepare at home. One was an egg-salad sandwich flavored with a dill pickle and semi-hot pepper relish. (See recipe.) Another was the spinach salad that accompanied our sandwiches, made with strawberries, blueberries, walnuts and blue cheese and moistened with a strawberry-hot pepper vinaigrette. Glazed chili-spiced carrots and creamy coleslaw with chili peppers, lime juice and garlic were other sandwich partners that we found practical for making at home.
When the weather cools off, we’ll make the delicious roasted butternut squash and red pepper soup that Chef Tom Fraker prepared.
Produce maven Robert Schueller cleared up some misconceptions about peppers. First he pointed out that peppers are not really vegetables. Since they have seeds, botanically they are fruits. People think that the hottest part of a chili pepper is the seeds, but in fact they’re the second-hottest. The hottest part is the “veins” – the membranes that hold the seeds.
In the US, hot peppers are often called chili peppers or chilies, and not all varieties are equally piquant. Some are slightly hot, some are medium-hot and others are “insanely hot.” As a general rule, said Schueller, the larger the chili pepper, the milder it is.
The pungency of peppers is measured in SHU, or Scoville Heat Units. On this scale, sweet peppers measure zero. Scorpion chilies, the hottest known peppers, which come from Trinidad, have an SHU of 1.4 million to 2 million. Although this was the chili pepper used to flavor the dressing on our spinach salad, the dressing was not excessively sharp. The key is adding a finely chopped or pureed hot pepper to sauces and other preparations gradually until they taste pleasantly peppery but not overwhelmingly hot.
Even with the ratings as a guide, using chili peppers can be a guessing game. Not every pepper of the same type is equally hot. Jalapeno peppers, for example, have a rating ranging from 3500 to 11,000 SHU – another reason to add them to sauces and stews little by little.
When choosing chili peppers, said Schueller, it’s useful to know that they get hotter as they get old. As they mature, they turn red and eventually get what produce dealers call “heat wrinkles.” A chili’s sharpness is also affected by growing conditions. If someone plants chili peppers where they were grown before instead of rotating crops, the new crop turns out hotter.
Cooks use chili peppers not just for their heat, but for their nuances of flavor. Some chilies have an herbal flavor, while others are characterized as tasting smoky, rich or sweet.
When chili peppers are dried, their flavor becomes more intense. Grinding dried chilies to a powder makes them easy to use.
Usually cooks soak dried chilies, sometimes after lightly toasting them, and then puree them. When making chili pesto for grilled cheese and portobello mushroom sandwiches, Melissa’s chefs puree soaked, medium-hot dried chilies in a blender along with basil, garlic, toasted almonds, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
For a colorful vegetarian version of Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, Melissa’s chefs marinate sliced mild red chilies with other vegetables in soy sauce and sesame oil. They use the marinated vegetables, along with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, to top baked tofu slices set on baguette halves that they spread with mayonnaise and sweet chili sauce. (See recipe.)
Sweet peppers and Italian sausages served in mustard-spread rolls make supper sandwiches that are easy to prepare. To make the filling, you heat the sausages with sautéed mini sweet peppers and browned onions and flavor the mixture with dry sherry, garlic and fresh basil.
Some even eat hot peppers for breakfast. Melissa’s chefs infuse fresh cayenne peppers in honey and drizzle it over fried eggs on buttered toast spread with goat cheese. To make fiery French toast, they add chopped chili peppers to the egg and milk mixture for dipping the bread. After browning the bread slices, they top them with butter and with maple syrup heated with chopped chilies.
Paradoxically, hot peppers can be a welcome addition to a cooling drink. Even though we ate spicy sandwiches, our beverage of choice at the party was lemonade infused with red chili slices. We were surprised by how appealing it was.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning books, Classic Cooking Techniques and Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
This recipe was developed by Nancy Eisman, a member of Melissa’s cookbook team.
She makes the relish from shishito peppers, a mild Japanese green chile pepper. You can use semi-hot or sweet peppers or a mixture of both. If you like, make the sandwiches on slightly sweetened rolls.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 1/3 to ½ cup finely diced semi-hot green peppers, sweet red or green peppers, or a mixture of semi-hot and sweet peppers
❖ 2 Tbsp. finely diced dill pickle
❖ 1 Tbsp. finely diced white part of green onion
❖ 1 Tbsp. finely diced celery
❖ Salt
❖ White pepper
❖ 6 large eggs, hard-boiled and finely chopped
❖ 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
❖ ¼ tsp. wasabi powder (optional)
❖ 4 small rolls
To make relish: In a bowl, combine diced peppers, pickle, onion and celery. Add salt and white pepper to taste.
To make egg salad: In a bowl combine eggs, mayonnaise and wasabi powder with salt to taste.
Cut rolls in half. Spoon egg salad evenly onto roll bottoms; top evenly with relish.
Top with roll tops and serve.
This recipe is from The Great Pepper Cookbook.
These Vietnamese-style sandwiches are made with baked tofu and briefly marinated vegetables. You can find baked tofu at some Thai or other East Asian or natural foods stores; or bake your own following the Note below.
The sandwich is made on baguette spread with mayonnaise and with sweet chili sauce.
If you don’t have sweet chili sauce, you can use any sweet, peppery sauce that is thick enough to spread. Alternatively, you can add jam and hot pepper sauce to ketchup, or mix jam or jelly with hot pepper sauce. If your baguette is very fresh, you don’t need to toast it.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 1/3 cup very thinly sliced radish (about 55 gr. or 2 oz.)
❖ 2 Tbsp. lower-sodium soy sauce
❖ 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
❖ ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
❖ 1/3 cup thinly sliced mild or hot chili peppers
❖ 1 small carrot, finely shredded (about 1/3 cup)
❖ 1 green onion, thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)
❖ A 46-cm. (18-in.) French baguette
❖ ¼ cup mayonnaise
❖ ¼ cup sweet chili sauce
❖ 340 gr. (12 oz.) baked tofu, thinly sliced (purchased or see Note)
❖ ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander)
❖ ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
In a bowl, combine radish, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, sliced peppers, carrot and green onion. Let stand for at least 30 minutes.
To toast baguette, preheat oven to 160°C (325°F). Cut baguette in half lengthwise and place on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly toasted, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Spread mayonnaise evenly on cut sides of baguette. Spread chili sauce evenly over mayonnaise. Arrange tofu evenly on baguette bottom. Drain sliced vegetable mixture; arrange evenly over tofu. Sprinkle evenly with cilantro and mint. Top with baguette top. Cut into four portions and serve.
Note: Easy Baked Tofu: Cut 400 to 450 gr. (14 to 16 oz.) firm tofu through the thickness in slices of about 1 cm. (a bit less than ½ in.) thick. Blot slices well between several layers of paper towels. Put slices in a shallow bowl. Combine 1 Tbsp. soy sauce with 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. water, 1 to 2 tsp. Asian sesame oil and 1 to 3 tsp. honey (optional). Spoon mixture over tofu. If desired, let stand to marinate for 30 minutes.
Arrange tofu slices in one layer in a shallow roasting pan or cookie sheet lined with foil and pour any remaining soy sauce mixture over them. Bake in a preheated oven at 190°C (375°F) for 20 to 35 minutes or until tofu is golden and done to your taste. Remove from oven and cool.
Peppers are used in three ways in these sandwiches – roasted sweet peppers inside the sandwich, hot pepper in the dressing and pickled hot peppers served on the side.
Instead of using turkey, you can make this sandwich with roast chicken or cooked or canned tuna or salmon. The recipe is from Faye Levy’s International Chicken Cookbook.
Makes 4 servings
❖ ½ cup mayonnaise
❖ 1 ½ to 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
❖ 2 to 3 tsp. minced green onion
❖ ½ tsp. white wine vinegar
❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper
❖ Cayenne pepper or hot pepper sauce
❖ 1 or 2 sweet green or red peppers, broiled or roasted and peeled (see Note below), or roasted peppers from a jar
❖ 4 French rolls or 8 thick slices French, Italian or other crusty bread
❖ 8 to 12 thin slices roast turkey
❖ 4 or 8 thin slices tomato
❖ Pickled hot peppers (for serving)
To make Creole mayonnaise, mix together mayonnaise, mustard, green onion and vinegar.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper or hot pepper sauce.
Cut each roasted pepper in 8 pieces. If using rolls, split them lengthwise. Spread mayonnaise lightly on cut sides of rolls or on bread slices. Top bread with turkey, tomatoes and roasted peppers. Put the sandwich halves together or serve them openface, whichever you prefer. Serve pickled hot peppers and any remaining mayonnaise separately.
Note: To broil and peel peppers: Preheat broiler to high. Rub whole peppers with oil and arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil about 10 minutes, turning peppers several times, until all sides are darkly blistered. Place peppers in a plastic bag and set aside until cool enough to handle. Gently peel away peppers’ charred skin before removing seeds and stems.