I have never liked peppers, partly because I don’t have a high tolerance for spicy foods and because I don’t really care for their taste. When I do use them, mostly in the form of bell peppers, it is mainly to add color to stir-fries, salads, and kabobs. Then, last year, I discovered one exception to my great dislike for peppers in the form of the jalapeño. They have a moderate “kick” to them, but they’re not intense, especially when seeded and their membranes are removed. They became a slight obsession, even planting them in my garden so I could have a steady supply of them. Well, jalapenos are so last year!
This year, I was introduced to another member of the Capsicum family, which I absolutely love, the shishito pepper. These Japanese beauties are small, slender peppers with a somewhat gnarled appearance. But don’t let their rather “menacing” appearance fool you. Shishito peppers are mild and sweet, although, as in the case of other peppers, even from the same plant, you will run into an occasional fiery one. You can use them in stir-fries, or add them in salads, much like bell peppers. You can even pickle them or use them in salsas and dips.
However, my inspiration for this dish comes from the way many Japanese restaurants serve them – as an appetizer, fried with sea salt and lemon. As with my last post, there isn’t a formal recipe, per se, but more of a technique. All you do is wash them and make sure they are completely dry to minimize any splattering since you’ll be dropping them in a hot pan. Be careful when putting the peppers in the pan as an occasional one might pop. You don’t need to seed them; the entire pepper is eaten except for its stem, which makes a great handle for picking them up. Fry them briefly in a HOT pan with a little olive oil and remove them when they start to brown and blister. While still hot, sprinkle with sea salt and, very importantly, a generous squeeze of lemon. They make a great snack or crowd-pleasing party appetizer.
Here in Southern California, I can find shishito peppers at Japanese markets, as well as Whole Foods and other specialty stores. I’ve also spotted them at the farmers market over the last few weeks, as they are currently in season.
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