Friday, September 2, 2016

Vegetable Feature: Witch Stick Peppers

By Chef Andrea

     Every winter the seed catalogs tempt us with pretty pictures of vibrantly colored vegetables.  We’re always looking for new things to try, and this past winter this unique pepper caught our attention.  Richard, always the practical grower, surprised me when he said he thought it would be fun to try these new witch stick peppers, a red, corkscrew pepper that is mostly sweet but sometimes reveals a hot one.  I agreed and added it to our seed order.
     Fast forward 9 months and here we are, harvesting these cool peppers!  The long, skinny, slightly twisted red peppers in your box are this unique pepper.  As I mentioned, they are sweet most of the time, but occasionally you might find a hot one.  The seed is produced by a Japanese company, so I thought maybe there was a traditional way to use the pepper.  However, if you Google this pepper, you won’t find much regarding how to use it since it is seemingly new to the US market and perhaps the world!  So, I was faced this week with the challenge of figuring out what to do this pepper.  I called the seed company to see if they had any recommendations for how to use this pepper. They suggested using them in sauces and stews.  Ok, that sounds fine, but the beauty of this pepper is its shape….it just seems like we should find a way to use it other than just chop it up!  So I set out to discover this pepper, and here is what I found.
     First, this pepper has a very thin skin and a thin wall of flesh.  This is an attribute that makes it a good candidate for drying.  If I weren’t looking for a culinary use for this pepper, I’d tell you to dry them and use them as a Christmas tree ornament!  This pepper also has a pretty extensive seed cavity which extends about three-quarters of the way down the pepper.  If the pepper is raw, I found that it’s easiest to cut the stem off the top of the pepper.  Next, use your finger to create a small tear starting at the top of the pepper.  Run your finger down the pepper following the natural separation of the pepper.  I was intrigued to find that the pepper skin followed a corkscrew pattern as I ran my finger down the side of the pepper. Once you’ve opened up the pepper, lay it flat on a cutting board and remove all the ribs and seeds.  Now you have a usable piece of pepper.
Oven Roasted Witch Stick Peppers
     I also tried cooking them—both sautéed on the stovetop and roasted in the oven.  I actually prefer the flavor of the pepper better when cooked as it has a fruity and sweet profile.  I found it easiest to remove the seeds before sautéing, but the same is not true if you’re going to roast them in the oven.  I roasted them at a temperature of 375°F for about 25 minutes.  Before I put them in the oven I brushed them lightly with oil.  About halfway through the cooking time I flipped the peppers over. I considered them done when the skin was starting to turn golden and had a shiny, translucent appearance.  Once they are cool enough to handle, carefully pull the stem end and you can fairly easily remove the entire section of seed nearly entirely intact.  Once the seeds are removed you can use the roasted pepper flesh however you wish to.
     I have to admit, I don’t feel like I’ve mastered this vegetable.  I am looking for a way to use this pepper that really maximizes the uniqueness of its shape.  It just seems like it would be a shame to just chop it up and treat it like any old pepper!  So the idea I kept coming back to was pickled peppers, which is the recipe I included in this week’s newsletter.  I did find that it is easier to use the peppers if you seed them out first.  Even if you end up chopping up the pickled peppers to serve them, at least you can enjoy their beautiful appearance in the jar for awhile!
     So I am passing the challenge on to you.  If you find a fun way to use this pepper that takes advantage of its unique shape, please share your recipe with us!  Send it our way along with a picture (  We’ll offer a $20 gift certificate for the most creative idea for using this pepper!  Have fun!

Witch Stick Pickled Peppers

Yield: 1 quart

5 witch stick peppers
3 medium carrots
1 medium or two small onions
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 ½ cups white wine vinegar
1 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves

1.  First prepare all the vegetables.  To prepare the peppers, trim the stem off the top.  Tear the top of the pepper a little bit and then run your finger down the pepper to open up the pepper all the way to the tip.  Lay the pepper down on a cutting board, spread out the  flesh and remove all the seeds and ribs.  Curl the pepper back into its original shape and set aside.
2.  Peel the carrots if desired and cut into ¼” thick slices.  Peel the onion, cut in half and slice thinly.
3.  Next, pack the onions, carrots, peppers and garlic cloves into a clean and sterilized 1-quart canning jar and set aside.
4.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the vinegar, water, sugar, thyme and bay leaves.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then let the mixture come to a simmer.  Remove the vinegar mixture from the heat and carefully pour it into the jar with the vegetables.  Fill the jar almost to the top, leaving about a ½” to 1” headspace.
5.  Put a lid on the jar and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.  Store the pickles in the refrigerator and eat them within a few weeks.

Serving suggestions:  Pickled vegetables are a tasty addition to sandwiches, either on the sandwich or serve them on the side.  They are also delicious served alongside eggs, tacos, on top of steaks, etc.

Recipe by Chef Andrea

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