With their bright, glossy skin and thin, crisp flesh, bell peppers are clearly related to various members of the capsicum family but unlike most of the others, their flavour is sweet and mild. Although many think of green, yellow, orange and red bell peppers as being separate varieties, they're usually not. They change colour at different stages of ripeness. Confusingly, though, some cultivars are fully ripe at yellow, orange, red and other colours such as purple, near-black and variegated. Green peppers, which are the most common type found in mar- kets (and usually the least expensive) taste green and unripe because they are: the pepper becomes sweeter and more nutritious as it changes colour. No matter which colour you buy, the bell pepper should be heavy and firm, with a shiny, smooth skin. Most of the bell peppers we get in Hong Kong are imported (primarily from the United States and Holland) so they're quite expensive compared with a lot of other vegetables. Fortunately, there's very little waste on them: the only parts not eaten are the stem, the round core that surrounds it and the seeds. Occasionally, you'll find a smaller pepper growing inside the main pepper - it can be prepared and cooked in the same way. Bell peppers are an essential ingredient in ratatouille, which I make with Chinese or Japanese eggplant - it stays firmer when cooked than the Italian type and is less bitter. Cut one red and one orange or yellow bell pepper into strips. Heat some oil in a skillet, add the peppers and a little salt and saut? over a high heat for about three minutes. Remove the peppers from the pan and set aside. Cut two long eggplants in half lengthwise and then slice on the diagonal into 1cm pieces. Heat the skillet (no need to wash it), add some oil, the eggplant pieces and a little salt, saut? for about three minutes then remove from the pan. Heat some oil in the skillet, add two slender zucchini that have been cut into 1cm rounds and saut? for about two minutes then remove from the pan. Heat more oil in the skillet, add half a diced onion and three sliced garlic cloves and cook over a low heat until tender. Stir in 500 grams of chopped tomato and all the other vegetables and cook over a low flame until the vegetables are tender. Add salt if needed, then stir in a handful of chopped parsley or julienned fresh basil, some extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Serve hot, warm or cold. For a Chinese dish, cut one red and one yellow bell pepper into 5mm pieces. Soak about 30 grams dried shrimp in warm water then drain, reserving the soaking liquid. Cut about 300 grams boneless siu yuk (roast pork) into 5mm dices and thinly slice two garlic cloves. Heat some oil in a wok, add the garlic, peppers and one or two minced bird's-eye chillies and stir- fry for about two minutes. Add the siu yuk and dried shrimp and stir in the shrimp soaking liquid, a little granulated sugar and some ground white pepper. Turn the heat to low, cover the wok and simmer for about five minutes. Remove the lid, taste the sauce for seasoning then serve with steamed white rice.