Enjoy fajitas using your slow cooker
"Mom, that's a female yellow pepper because it has four bumps," my 14-year-old daughter said as she pointed at the peppers on a cutting board. "It's sweeter."
She was grinning sweetly and looking at me. I mean my daughter, not the yellow pepper.
"That red pepper is a male pepper because it has three bumps," my daughter continued.
I had rinsed the peppers and was preparing to cut a yellow, orange and red bell pepper into strips to saute for fajitas.
I glanced at my daughter sideways as I cut. I could tell she was testing me or teasing me, or both.
"I saw it on the internet, and we all know the internet is always right," she added. Now I knew she was teasing me.
"I think you know that peppers do not have genders," I noted. She nodded and laughed.
Bell peppers are not "male" or "female," even if you read it on Facebook or Pinterest. The story pops up occasionally and is shared widely. As noted by horticulture experts, the number of bumps or "lobes" does not determine flavor or cooking method.
Bell peppers are tasty, colorful accompaniments to summer meals. Peppers are coming into season in Midwestern gardens, so they are available in garden pots or beds. They can be grilled, sauteed in a pan or stuffed with your favorite mixture of rice and meat.
By the way, red peppers are green peppers that are allowed to mature and ripen. All bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamins C and A, and other nutrients.
However, if I were to give a gold star for vitamin C content, red bell peppers would be the winner. One cup of red bell pepper has more than 200 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C. One cup of green pepper has about 120 mg of vitamin C.
On the other hand, a large orange has 82 mg of vitamin C, but citrus fruits get all the publicity for vitamin C content. An adult woman needs about 75 mg of vitamin C per day, while an adult male needs about 90 mg.
Bell peppers also provide natural plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that have disease-fighting antioxidant effects. One medium-sized bell pepper has just 25 calories.
At the store or farmers market, look for firm, shiny bell peppers that are heavy for their size. Store them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator and aim to use them within about five days.
As I cut peppers and onions, my husband and other daughter came into the kitchen wondering when dinner would be ready. They followed their noses. Beef fajita meat with chili peppers and spices was simmering in a slow cooker nearby.
Yes, I was slow cooking in the summer.
Sometimes, we reserve slow cookers for soups and stews during colder weather, but the appliance is useful for summer cooking, too. We can add a few ingredients to the slow cooker, turn the appliance to the appropriate setting and let it work its magic while we are doing other things, such as weeding our gardens.
Regardless of the season, remember these food safety tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture when using a slow cooker.
• Thaw meat or poultry before putting it in the slow cooker.
• Keep all perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut vegetables and meats for the dish you are making, store them separately in the refrigerator. Mix them together right before plugging in and turning on the slow cooker.
• Add the amount of liquid recommended in the recipe.
• Keep the lid in place throughout cooking, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.
• If you have leftovers, place them in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished. Do not reheat leftovers in a slow cooker. Reheat leftovers to 165 F in the oven or microwave, or on a stove.
My fajitas were a hit using this easy recipe that I adapted from the North Dakota Beef Commission.
Slow Cooker Fajita Shredded Beef
2 pounds chuck pot roast, cut into cubes about 1 inch square
½ medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped fine or pressed
1 small jalapeno pepper, chopped fine (more, if you prefer)
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies
½ tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt, or as desired
Place beef cubes in a slow cooker and add onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, chilies, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt. Begin cooking for two hours on high setting and then turn down to low for approximately three to four hours. Alternatively, cook on low for eight hours. When the beef is tender, remove from the slow cooker with a slotted fork so as to not get too much juice and then take two forks and shred.
Serving idea: While meat simmers, rinse then slice one yellow, red and orange pepper and one onion into ½-inch strips. Saute with 1 tablespoon olive oil and one minced clove garlic, adding other spices if desired, for about 10 minutes or to desired doneness. Serve in whole-wheat soft flour tortillas with meat. Top with shredded cheese if desired.
Makes eight servings. Each serving of the shredded fajita meat mixture has 170 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 24 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 220 mg sodium.
Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist for the NDSU Extension Service.