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Speedy underestimates the rate at which the Old World embraced the New’s zesty chilli. Try these hot peppers (pimiento) said Columbus proudly introducing them in 1493 – after all pepper (pimento or black pepper) was what he was looking for (well, he possibly said something like that). Within two hundred years they were widely cultivated throughout Europe, Asia and Africa as the tongue-tingling spice we know today. At the same time a mild, sweet variety of capsicum was also evolving. And what a veg. Red, orange, yellow, green, purple: capsicum’s crisp, juicy flesh sets the taste bar high. It’s no wonder they have made themselves at home in kitchens around the world sliced or diced into salads, or stuffed, stir fried, roasted, and often peeled which is not as hard to do as it sounds. Just hold them over a gas flame with metal tongs or place under a very hot grill or on a lightly oiled tray in a hot oven until the skin is charred then drop into a plastic bag and seal. When cool, the skin will slip off easily. If you don’t have time to do this, you can buy them ready prepared from your favourite deli counter. There are numerous good brands of jarred “fire-roasted” peeled strips in olive oil.

What to look for Red, orange and yellow capsicums are not only sweeter than regular green ones, but they keep their colour better when cooked. Select well shaped, firm and glossy capsicums with bright, taut skins and their stems fresh and green. Watch out for soft spots, wrinkled skin or blemishes (that means they are starting to dry out). Select capsicums that are firm and glossy with a uniform colour. Avoid any with dull or wrinkled skin, spots or blemishes. Store unwashed capsicums in a plastic bag in the fridge so they keep their crunch and sweetness. If you have picked up a plastic wrapped tray for a bargain price, unwrap them when you get home as they need to breathe a bit.

What’s in them? A medium raw capsicum (about 90 g or 3 oz) has about 80 kilojoules (19 calories), 1.5g protein, 0g fat, 3g carbs (sugars), 1g fibre, 2mg sodium, 135mg potassium and a low GI (estimated) as they have no starch. They are one of the best sources of vitamin C around.

Some like it hot The hot comes from capsaicin, which is found in its highest concentration in the chilli’s seeds and fleshy “placenta” material that is joined to the seeds says Spice and Herb Bible guru Ian Hemphill. It blows your mind because it releases endorphins which create a sense of wellbeing and stimulation. In spite of the inordinate preoccupation with heat in chillies, the tremendous flavour contribution made by dried chillies should not be overlooked says Ian. And there’s more. Research in recent years has provided some evidence that capsaicin can raise your metabolic rate. A meal containing freshly chopped chilli may also help reduce insulin levels. What’s not to like?
The Good Carbs Cookbook
Extract from The Good Carbs Cookbook published by Murdoch Books and available online and in good bookstores.