The green bell pepper is the archnemesis of many culinary clodhoppers, myself included. On more than one occasion, I’ve had a kitchen knife skid errantly on a green pepper’s slippery skin and draw blood from one of my fingers.
And so, with the official start of summer rapidly approaching, and the rate of fire-roasted food preparation set to skyrocket, the poor preparation of kebab-destined green peppers will undoubtedly place the quality of several meals at risk — not to mention a few fingers. But instead of reaching for a set of cut-resistant gloves, I reached for the phone and called my favorite chef, Kate Leahy, to help all of us configure our green peppers in a way that will leave our kebabs tasty, and our appendages safe.
What are some of the general characteristics of green peppers that make them tricky to cut?
For one thing, green peppers won’t lie flat on your cutting board. They can roll around, so maybe people have a hard time getting their knives through them. You can counter that by holding your knife in one hand, and holding your pepper firmly to the cutting board with your other hand so that it lies flat. Then you just slice off the top that has the stem end. It’s easier to get started from there.
In culinary school were you advised to pay any special attention to the preparation of green peppers?
Not necessarily. Whatever color your bell pepper is, it doesn’t need any special treatment. The key is to get the stem sliced off, and then you can turn the pepper upside down and shake out all the seeds. Use your hand to pull out the extra seeds because there might be membrane left behind, and then you have a clean bell pepper to slice, stuff, roast or to do whatever you want to do next with it. They’re pretty versatile.
Are there any mistakes that people commonly make with their preparation of green peppers? For example, is it wrong to rinse out the interior to get the seeds out?
The nice thing about green peppers is they’re pretty durable. I usually don’t rinse out the inside unless the seeds are being stubborn. They come out pretty easily, and the insides are clean as is, so it’s not a matter of a sanitary concern. At that point, once you’ve got a clean bell pepper that’s hollowed out — the seeds and membranes are out — you can just slice it in half from the stem to the open end, and now you’ve got two flat-ish pieces that you can easily slice into squares or strips depending on what you want to do next.
Are there any special techniques that are ideal for cutting a green pepper that’s going to be cooked and served in kebab form?
People can cook kebabs in so many ways. If they were just doing a vegetable kebab with no meat, I wouldn’t even slice the bell pepper. After I hollowed it out, I would skewer it from stem end to open end and roast it that way, so you can basically blister the outside of the skin and peel the skin off if you don’t want it, because you’ve got this really nice, tender, cooked bell pepper.
If you’re using it in a typical way where you’ve got pieces of meat mixed with pieces of vegetable, what you need to do is slice it into one- or two-inch squares. To slice a bell pepper that way, I’d recommend turning the bell pepper onto the cutting board so that the skin side is facing down. It makes it easier for the knife to get through the skin. If you slice it the other way, you might hit a bit of resistance on the skin, so slice it with the skin side facing down, and get it into more or less square pieces — they don’t have to be perfect. Then, when you skewer it, if you put a piece of meat on first for example, leave a little space between the meat and the bell pepper on the skewer. That way there’s enough heat that comes up when you’re cooking. The meat and the bell pepper will both cook, and you can avoid the raw bell pepper taste that a lot of people don’t like.
Do you have a favorite kebab recipe that includes green bell pepper?
There’s a terrific kebab recipe in my cookbook Lavash that you can use either on the grill or in the oven. You make lamb meatballs, skewer them, and then you put vegetables on the skewer like eggplants, tomatoes or bell peppers. The key is to make sure the vegetables are the same size as the meatballs. If the meatball is two-inches wide, you want the eggplant, tomato or bell pepper to also be two inches wide. Skewer the whole thing and use some seasoning like some oregano, maybe some Aleppo pepper, a little bit of onion, garlic, parsley or maybe some cilantro.
Make the meatballs, skewer them with the vegetables, put some foil over it, put it in the oven, and bake it. Or you can do that in advance, and if you go to a potluck-like barbecue, you can just stick it on the grill at the end to give it that nice little charred flavor. It’s super easy, something you can make ahead of time, and it will be really good.