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Peppers
Let's talk peppers. There are sweet peppers such as the sweet bell pepper and hot peppers such as the jalapeno and habanero. Unless you have an asbestos lined mouth the habanero pepper is probably not for you. I am not a hot pepper lover myself, but living here in Texas hot peppers are difficult to avoid. There are in many of Texas' favorite dishes.

So what makes hot peppers so hot? Well, a natural substance called capsaicin. It can produce a burning sensation in the mouth, cause the eyes to water and nose to run and even cause you to sweat. In fact capsaicin is so hot that a single drop diluted in 100,000 drops of water will blister the tongue.

The capsaicin is primarily found in the white `ribs' that run down the sides of the pepper. Since the seeds are so close to the ribs, they too, are often hot. By removing the ribs and seeds you can reduce the hotness a bit but the capsaicin is found throughout the whole pepper.

Capsaicin is measured in parts per million. These parts per million as converted to Scoville heat units, the industry standard for measuring a pepper's kick. One part per million is equal to 15 Scoville units. Bell peppers have a value of zero Scoville units whereas the habanero registers a blistering 100,000 to 300,000. Pure capsaicin has a Scoville score of 16 million.

Here are the most common peppers along with their Scoville heat Unit score:
Bell Peppers - 0
Pepperoncini  - 100 - 500
Poplano - 1000 - 1500
Jalapeno - 2500 - 5000
Serrano - 10,000 - 23,000
Cayenne - 30,000 - 50,000
Habanero - 100,000 - 300,000

Are hot peppers bad for you? Probably not, according to recent studies. A common concern is that hot peppers or other spicy foods cause ulcers, but there's no evidence that they do. Studies of areas where hot peppers are used extensively in cooking, such as Brazil and Thailand, have found no higher incidence of stomach ulcers among their populations. Nor do hot peppers aggravate or cause hemorrhoids, as has often been claimed, since capsaicin is broken down before it reaches the lower intestine.

Actually, peppers may have some beneficial properties. Capsaicin has been found to work as an anticoagulant, thus possibly helping prevent heart attacks or strokes caused by blood clot. Small amounts of capsaicin can produce numbing of the skin and have a slight anti-inflammatory effect. In some countries, peppers are used in salves.

Additionally, peppers are high in vitamin C, which, in turn, may be effective in protecting against cancer. By weight, green bell peppers have twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruit and red peppers have three times as much. Hot peppers contain even more vitamin Ca whopping 357 percent more than an orange.

So now that you are well versed in peppers, here are some recipes to try

Smoked Red Bell Pepper Soup

Hickory chips, soaked in water 30 minutes and drained
8 medium red bell peppers (about 3 pounds)
6 cups (or more) chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds whole chicken breasts with ribs
2 tablespoons butter
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 cups whipping cream
salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare covered barbecue grill with medium-low fire on one side of grill.
Sprinkle hickory chips over coals.  Place disposable aluminum pan under
grill rack on side away from fire.  Grease grill rack and arrange peppers
on rack over pan.  Cover and smoke peppers until cooked through, turning
every 15 minute and adding more chips as necessary, about 1 1/2 hours.
Peel, core and dice peppers.

Bring 6 cups stock to boil in medium saucepan.  Reduce heat to a simmer.  Add chicken breasts and simmer until firm to the touch, about 12 minutes.  Drain, reserving stock.  Skin and bone chicken, then dice.  Refrigerate.

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add celery and
onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Add
peppers and stir 3 minutes.  Add reserved stock, thyme and bay leaf and
simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 4 cups, about 1 hour.

Add cream to soup and simmer until reduced to 4 1/2 cups, about 40 minutes.
Remove thyme and bay leaf.  Puree soup in blender.  Strain through sieve
into medium saucepan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Warm over low heat,
adding more stock if thinner consistency is desired.  Add diced chicken
and heat through.  Serve immediately.

Black Bean Dip with Habaneros

1 16-oz can cooked black beans
1/3 C chopped tomato
1/3 C chopped red or green bell pepper
1/4 C minced red onion
1 clove Garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
1 or two habanero peppers, seeded and finely chopped

Place all ingredients in to a blender or food processor. Cover and process until smooth. Garnish as desired. Serve with tortilla chips, jicama sticks, or other fresh veggies. Makes 2 1/2 Cups