If fire were a type of food, it would be a hot pepper! Peppers come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but the one unifying factor is that they can significantly level up your cooking with their sweetness and spice. Pad Thai, Mexican burritos and Indian curry are not the same without the fiery kick and smoky flavor that peppers afford them. However, your local grocery store might not carry the specific type of pepper required for an authentic ethnic recipe. When that special dish calls for some unconventional pepper varieties, try looking for them at the following places.
Asian Grocery Store
Most cities and towns have at least one independent, locally-owned and -operated grocery store stocked full of specialty Asian foods. Many Asian grocery stores offer a fusion of different kinds of Asia-sourced ingredients, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai. If you’re lucky, you might have an Indian grocer in your area, too. Asian grocery stores sell pre-made sauces, pastes, powders, seasonings and more, which are helpful when your traditional recipe calls for a specific type of ingredient. However, they also offer fresh produce often required in Asian cuisine, such as limes, green onions, daikon radish, napa cabbage, and, of course, peppers. Try going to your local Asian market for fresh or dried peppers like Thai chilis, South Indian yogurt peppers (Dahi Mirchi), Sichuan or Tien Tsin chilis, and Kashmiri peppers.
Hispanic Food Market
Hispanic or Latin food markets are similar to Asian stores in that they are generally independent small businesses carrying authentic ingredients you can’t find elsewhere. Similarly, these grocery stores usually carry fresh and dried produce, snacks, specialty ingredients and spices from Central and South America. At a Hispanic store, you’re likely to find large bins of peppers of all varieties, including habaneros, chiles de Arbol, chipotles, guajillos and more. They may even offer bulk prices that will save you money compared to buying those same peppers at your regular grocery store.
Farmer’s markets are always an excellent choice when hunting for fresh produce. However, the type and quantity of produce you stand to find may depend on what kinds of plants grow in your region. If you live in a dry or hot climate, you probably won’t be hard-pressed to find some exciting pepper varieties. If you live in a colder climate, you may only find peppers there in the summertime, if at all. The unique benefit of shopping at farmer’s markets is that the produce is guaranteed to be diverse, fresh, high quality, and full of organic flavor. You may even get a chance to chat with the grower, too!
If all else fails and your heart is set on that specific pepper variety, you can try searching for a distributor online. There are countless online shops only a quick Etsy or Google search away that supply and ship fresh or dried peppers of all different kinds. Many of them are independent growers who enjoy experimenting with their own recipes, too. Get your next shipment of unconventional peppers from your favorite online supplier, and give their homemade salsas, sauces, and mixes a try, too!
Grow Them Yourself
During your online search, you’ll inevitably realize that there are far more distributors of seeds than fresh produce. Growing your own peppers is not out of the question! Peppers can be easy to grow as long as you keep them in a warm enough environment with plenty of sunlight. It’s a good idea to get the seedlings started indoors, where you can control the temperature, and to grow them in the spring and summertime when the sun is at its peak. Start small with a single bell pepper, jalapeño, habanero or poblano plant in a container. As you gain confidence, you can start growing more pepper varieties and experiment with transplanting them to an outside garden in the warmer months.
The most quintessential spice of life is only found in the right pepper variety. To make tamales the way your mom always did or a Chinese stir fry that captures your grandmother’s cooking, you need precise ingredients that aren’t always available at an ordinary grocery store. Asian and Hispanic markets are guaranteed to provide specialty ingredients, while farmer’s markets might surprise you with a variety you’ve never heard of before. Online retailers for fresh peppers can be a solid backup plan, while growing them yourself can bring a sense of satisfaction to your kitchen life. Without the spicy, smoky, and sweet flavors this unique vegetable offers, your authentic cuisine simply wouldn’t be the same.