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Elephant Ear Chile Peppers
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Elephant Ear chile peppers are very large, elongated, and flat pods, averaging 15 to 18 centimeters in length and 10 to 12 centimeters in diameter, and have a broad, conical shape that tapers to a point on the non-stem end. The pods may be straight or curved, depending on the growing conditions, and the skin is smooth and glossy, ripening from green to dark red when mature. Underneath the surface, the flesh is thick, crisp, pale red or green, and very juicy, encasing a central cavity filled with large membranes and round, flat, cream-colored seeds. Elephant Ear chile peppers do not contain heat and are very sweet with a fruity and subtle apple-like flavor.
Elephant Ear chile peppers are available in the summer through fall.
Elephant Ear chile peppers, botanically classified as Capsicum annuum, are a rare variety of sweet pepper that belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Named after their similarity in shape to an elephant’s ear, and native to southeastern Europe, Elephant Ear chile peppers are a large paprika-type pepper that is favored for its fruity taste and juicy flesh. Elephant Ear chile peppers are widely used in both fresh and cooked applications, and in Croatia and Serbia where the pepper is sometimes known as Slonovo Uvo, the pepper is popularly used to make a traditional preserve or relish called ajvar.
Elephant Ear chile peppers are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and E, folate, and fiber, which can help stimulate the digestive tract. The peppers also contain some potassium, manganese, vitamin K, and iron.
Elephant Ear chile peppers are best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as roasting, grilling, and baking. The sweet peppers can be sliced and consumed fresh, out-of-hand, or they can be layered in sandwiches, diced for salads, and sliced for appetizer plates. Elephant Ear chile peppers can also be stuffed with meats, grains, and cheeses, grilled for a smoky flavor, or roasted and blended into sauces or salsas. In Europe, where Elephant Ear chile peppers are grown and highly valued, the peppers are used much like red bell pepper and can also be lightly stir-fried or mixed into Italian pasta dishes. Elephant Ear chile peppers pair well with eggplant, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic, onions, mango, rice, pasta, seafood, and meats such as sausage, ground beef, lamb, and poultry. The peppers will keep up to one week when loosely stored whole and unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
In Serbia, Elephant Ear chile peppers are commonly found in backyard gardens, grown for everyday recipes and used to make the famous pepper preserve known as ajvar. Developed in the 19th century in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, ajvar is a flavorful solution to preserving the abundant pepper harvest throughout the winter season. Named after the Ottoman word for caviar, Ajvar is a thick, sweet and sour spread or relish that is made from roasted peppers, eggplant, garlic, and vinegar. Once cooked, the peppers and eggplant are traditionally placed through a meat grinder to create a smooth texture and the spread is served with grilled meats and kabobs, layered on slices of bread, or served on meze platters alongside hummus, baba ghanoush, or tabbouleh. Ajvar is also well-known for its use in cevapcici, which are grilled meatballs that are coated in ajvar and are stuffed with onions into flatbread.
Elephant Ear chile peppers are descendants of peppers that originated in Central and South America and were introduced into Europe via Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. As peppers spread throughout Europe, many of the varieties were selectively bred for distinct characteristics, and Elephant Ear chile peppers were believed to have been developed from these varieties in Serbia. Today the large peppers are cultivated throughout the Balkan Peninsula, which is a region in southeastern Europe that includes countries such as Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Albania, Bosnia, and Macedonia. Elephant Ear chile peppers can also be found through online seed catalogs for home garden use in the United States.