Heat Up Your Garden With Chili Plants!

Fresh chili peppers add personality to virtually any culinary creation. From a tangle of spaghetti to a chocolate cake, a little chili brings an intriguing heat. Going to the grocery stores for peppers can feel frustrating though, especially when you're looking for unusual varieties. Chili peppers aren't all made alike-each type has a distinctive flavor all its own. Luckily, chilies are easy to grow at home. Try cultivating these three.

1. Banana Peppers: Long, flattened, and yellow, this chili is milder than most with a sweet, fruity flavor. Commonly found on sandwiches, the banana pepper pickles particularly well. Submerged in vinegary brine, this pepper develops a stinging bite. Since it's larger than most chilies, try dicing it and adding to hearty stews for texture. Although banana peppers need direct sunlight, they're otherwise easy to grow. Look for plants at a farmer's market or gardening store.

2. Serrano Peppers: Much hotter than banana peppers, serrano peppers are smaller and more violently red. Native to mountainous regions of Mexico, serrano peppers need only a little water to thrive. This chili works well in salsas, where its grassy heat really pops against a tomato background.

3. Habanero: If you need intense spice on hand at every moment, grow habaneros in your backyard. Like the serrano and banana peppers, habaneros need lots of sun but only a little water. Be careful when handling these chilies-they're so hot, they can irritate the skin and inflame the eyes. With a beautiful citrusy kick and unadulterated heat, homegrown habaneros make Mexican meals all the more special.

Besides the simple joy of working in your own garden, planting chili peppers can help your other plants, too. Peppers work as a natural insecticide, warding off garden pests that might savage nearby crops. Try using your own produce in this Texas chili recipe with Mexican chocolate.

Photo: p22earl on flickr