Typically, tomatoes, summer squash, melons and bell peppers are hard to grow on Kauai. The fruit fly “stings” them, borrows inside, and lays eggs. The only evidence is a small, inward dent. Other than that, the fruit looks perfectly edible. But when you cut into it, it’s either teeming with eggs, or rotten.
There are some Kauai farmers who can grow these fruits and vegetables, and Dylan Strong of Growing Strong Farm is one of them. He shelters his watermelon, beefsteak tomato, and peppers in protective coverings, and babies them with lots of TLC.
Although he is not certified, his produce is grown using organic and bio intensive techniques. Dylan also grows carrots, beets, kale, lettuce, cucumbers, green beans, cilantro and basil on his 2-acre farm in Moloaa.
I’ll never forget going to his farm and seeing a long bed filled with watermelon seedlings. As soon as Dylan saw a flower, he placed handmade protective covers over them. The row stretched out for 100 yards, and was dotted with about 60 protective cloaks.
Dylan grows gorgeous bell peppers that are heavy and as big as a soft ball. At the market, he sells them for $2 each. Local grocery stores sell organic bells for up to $10 a pound, non-organic go for around $7. They’ve traveled across the ocean to get here, so they’re at least a week old, soft, and shrivel-y. Week old peppers taste, well, weak compared to Dylan’s.
I have never been a fan of green bell peppers, unless they’re cooked. But when I go to the Wednesday Kapaa market, and see Dylan’s shiny bells all perfect and fresh, I can’t help but grab three or four.
Kauai farmers usually harvest their produce just before going to market, and Dylan is no exception. I bring home these hyper-fresh peppers and notice for the first time a pleasing pepper smell. When I ask Dylan about it, he shrugs his shoulders, and says, “I don’t know, they always smell like that.” The only thing I can attribute this to, is the fact that these peppers are super fresh.
You can find Dylan’s produce at island restaurants who put local food on the menu including Caffe Coco, Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill, Red Salt, and Oasis on the Beach. If you want to cook your own, try Hoku Foods Natural Market in Kapaa, and the Kapaa farmers market. Be sure to show up at 3 p.m. sharp, because his produce goes fast! If I get there at 3:30, his lanky frame is leaning against the back of his truck waiting to sell the last three bell peppers, and a single bunch of basil.
Dylan’s peppers are sweet, crisp, juicy and perfect on their own. Incase you want a snappy weeknight dinner that’s a chinch to cook, I’ve included the bell pepper recipe that ran last January in my Farmers Markets column.
This recipe also contains capers which are packed with quercetin. The flavonoid calms inflammation, and has antihistamine properties, so it helps support the immune system against infections, free radicals, allergies and inflammatory responses such as arthritis. Bell peppers have about three times the vitamin C of an orange, and are an excellent source of vitamin A.
Piquant Pepper Saute, Serves 4
3 bell peppers, any color, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs (such as parsley, basil or dill)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Heat olive oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, stirring occasionally, about four minutes. Add the peppers and season with salt and pepper. Cook another three or four minutes, until peppers are bright and begin to soften. Add capers and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Toss in herbs and serve.