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Elephant Ear Chile Peppers
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Elephant Ear peppers are very large, sweet, red peppers. The pepper matures from dark green to a bright red, and grows an average of 6 inches tall and 4 inches wide, roughly the size of one’s hand. The peppers can weigh up to 9 ounces. At maturity, the Elephant Ear pepper almost lies flat, with a slight indentation down the middle from the inner ribs. The shape is very similar to that of an elephant’s ear, hence the name of the variety. Elephant Ear peppers are thick-walled and have a crisp, juicy texture. Within the walls of the pepper is a relatively large placenta with very few seeds. The peppers offer sweet flavors of apple and red bell pepper.
Elephant Ear peppers are available in the summer and fall.
Elephant Ear peppers are a rare variety of sweet pepper native to Southeastern Europe. Named for their shape, the Elephant Ear peppers are a large paprika-type pepper belonging to Capsicum annuum. The red pepper is widely used in a traditional Serbian preserve called ajvar. In Croatia, the pepper is called Slonovo Uvo.
Like other sweet peppers, Elephant Ear peppers are high in vitamins C and A. They also contain small amounts of potassium and iron. Elephant Ear peppers are said to contain properties that stimulate the digestive tract.
In the Southeastern part of Europe, where Elephant Ear peppers are grown and valued, they are used much like a red bell pepper. Elephant Ear peppers are roasted and used to make salsas or sauces. The large, flat peppers can be cut lengthwise and stuffed. The sweet flavor of the peppers pairs well with fruit salsas or chutneys using mango. In Croatia and Serbia, the Elephant Ear pepper is the preferred pepper for the traditional ajvar, a pepper relish used as a spread, dip and ingredient in many Southeastern European dishes. The preserve is made by roasting the peppers, cooking them with diced eggplant, garlic, tomato and white vinegar and blending it after simmering for about two hours.
In Serbia, where the Elephant Ear pepper is more commonly found in backyard gardens, the pepper preserve ajvar is made in the fall and jarred to preserve it over the winter and through to the next harvest. Traditionally, the preparation for the condiment takes three days. First the peppers are roasted on a wood fired oven in a “summer kitchen,” used for cooking in the heat of the summer. The roasted peppers are loaded into a large pot and left to sit overnight. The peppers are peeled and deseeded, along with the eggplant, and are ground together using a meat grinder. The resulting puree is cooked for a very long time, generally more than two hours. Near the end, a little white wine vinegar and garlic is added, then the contents are put in hot, sanitized jars and left to cool and seal overnight. Ajvar is served with grilled meats and kabobs, and served on meze platters alongside hummus, baba ghanoush or tabbouleh.
The Southeastern European Elephant Ear pepper is native to Serbia, though it has its origins in South America, as do all members of the Capsicum annuum species. The large, elephant ear-shaped peppers grow throughout the region known to some as the Balkan Peninsula, which includes: Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Albania, Bosnia and other countries that were once part of the former Yugoslavia. The peppers don’t produce many seeds, so cultivation is limited to the quantity of seeds one can obtain.