Go to many Japanese restaurants, and shishito peppers are as much a staple on the menu as bowls of edamame. Quickly sautéed until the vibrant green peppers soften and begin to blister, they’re often served in a small bowl, seasoned with soy sauce and maybe a touch of vinegar, and garnished with a sprinkling of bonito flakes.
The Japanese peppers can be found year-round, although the growing season typically extends from summer to early fall. Thin-skinned, the delicate finger-length peppers are known for a mild sweetness offset with a gentle heat. Tame as they often are, every once in a while a pepper packs a jolt of heat, and tackling a plate can be quite an adventure.
Readily available in Asian grocery stores, the peppers can also be found at farmers markets and are increasingly turning up in large supermarkets as they gain popularity. At the same time, chefs and home cooks are beginning to appreciate the pepper’s versatility.
Although the traditional simple preparation in Japanese restaurants is always good, Jason Bowlin, chef de cuisine at Redbird in Los Angeles, prepares a spicy shishito dish tossed with bright, fresh citrus juice and fish sauce. The dish is served with crispy red quinoa and shaved orange bottarga (salted, cured fish roe), a colorful play on flavors and textures that is salty and crunchy, with just the right amount of acid.
There’s also shishito tempura, from chef Zaz Suffy at Balboa Park in Los Angeles. Instead of serving the tempura with a classic dipping sauce, however, she sprinkles the pepper with bright red Sriracha salt she makes herself. “It adds a pop of flavor that balances the peppers perfectly,” she said.
Because of their small size and delicate walls, the peppers can be added to a variety of dishes, seeds and all. Slice them up and add them to scrambled eggs, or char them quickly on a grill, the smoky notes complementing the delicate heat of the peppers. Use shishitos to add mild spice to salsas, gazpachos and rich stews, or quickly pickle the peppers to serve as an appetizer or cocktail garnish.
Or stuff the peppers with tuna or cheese — fresh goat cheese is a natural pairing, the gentle grassy notes of the cheese a complement to the mild heat of the peppers.
The peppers also work well in a bánh mì-inspired grilled cheese sandwich, layered with pickled carrot and daikon strips and sprigs of fresh cilantro.
Jonathan Whitener, chef/owner of Here’s Looking at You in Los Angeles, offers his own take on the peppers. He blisters them and serves them alongside tonnato, an Italian tuna-based sauce he flavors with lemon, capers, fish sauce and Thai chiles. He then garnishes the sauce with a pinch of the powdered dried plum known as huamei. The bright pink powder is at once salty, tart and sweet.
Tempura Shishito Peppers
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Adapted from a recipe by chef Zaz Suffy of the Cohn Restaurant Group.
• Canola or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
• 1 c. all-purpose flour
• 1/2 c. plus 1 tbsp. cornstarch, divided
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 c. cold soda water, more if desired
• 24 shishito peppers
• Sriracha salt (see recipe)
Fill a large heavy-bottom pot with enough oil to come up the sides by about 3 inches. Heat the oil to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, the baking soda and salt. Whisk in the soda water to form a batter. Thin the batter, if desired, with a little more soda water.
Toss the peppers with the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch, dusting off any excess. Dunk the peppers, 1 at a time, into the batter, then place in the fryer.
Deep-fry the peppers, a few at a time, until the batter is puffed and lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and drain. Season the peppers with the Sriracha Salt and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:
Calories 255 Fat 17 g Sodium 415 mg
Carbohydrates 23 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 2 g
Protein 3 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 4 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 starch, 3 ½ fat.
Makes about 1 cup.
Note: Plan ahead as this requires two to three hours of drying time. Adapted from chef Zaz Suffy of the Cohn Restaurant Group.
• 1 c. (1/2 lb.) kosher salt
• 1/4 c. (2 oz.) Sriracha sauce
Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
In a large bowl, mix together the salt and Sriracha until the salt is evenly coated with the sauce.
Spread the salt out in a very thin, even layer. Place the salt in the oven and toast until the salt is completely dried, 2 to 3 hours. Remove from heat and cool.
Pulse the salt in a food processor to break up the large chunks. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to several weeks.
Spicy Shishitos With Crispy Quinoa
Serves 2 to 4.
Note: The quinoa needs to soak overnight. Bottarga is available at United Noodles in Minneapolis. Adapted from Jason Bowlin, chef de cuisine at Redbird in Los Angeles.
• 3 generous tbsp.(1 oz.) red quinoa
• 2 to 4 tbsp. canola oil
• 12 shishito peppers
• 2 tbsp. fish sauce
• 2 tbsp. citrus juice (an equal combination of lemon, orange and lime)
• Bottarga, shaved (salted, cured fish roe), for garnish (see Note)
• Coarse sea salt, preferably Maldon, for garnish
Soak the quinoa in water overnight to soften. The next day, drain the quinoa well.
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, and coat with a thin film of canola oil. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer the quinoa to paper towels to drain and cool.
Heat a large heavy-bottom sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the remaining oil, and when it begins to shimmer, carefully add the peppers, blistering them on all sides.
Carefully stir in the fish sauce and citrus juice, tossing the peppers to coat thoroughly. Remove from heat.
Using tongs, remove the peppers (leave the oil and liquid in the pan) to a serving plate. Garnish with the crispy quinoa, shaved bottarga and salt. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per each of 4 servings:
Calories 115 Fat 8 g Sodium 540 mg
Carbohydrates 9 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 3 g
Protein 3 g Cholesterol 15 mg Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, ½ lean protein, 1 ½ fat.
Shishito Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich.
Note: Use a combination of crumbled fresh goat and part-skim mozzarella cheeses for a delicious combo. From Noelle Carter.
• 8 shishito peppers
• 2 large slices French or Italian bread
• 6 to 8 tbsp. mayonnaise, more if needed
• 3 oz. cheese (see note)
• 1/3 c. drained Quick-Pickled Carrots and Daikon, or as desired (see recipe)
• Fresh sprigs cilantro
Heat a griddle or cast iron pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the shishito peppers and toast until softened and blistered on all sides, 4 to 6 minutes, rotating frequently. Remove from heat and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Spread mayonnaise on 1 side of each of the slices of bread. Top each slice with half of the cheese. On top of 1 slice, arrange the shishito peppers, then the drained pickles and cilantro sprigs. Top with the inverted second slice of bread to form a sandwich, pressing gently so everything stays together.
Heat the griddle over medium-high heat until hot. Meanwhile, spread mayonnaise on the outside of one side of the sandwich.
Invert the sandwich onto the hot griddle, and spread mayonnaise on the second (top) side. Grill the sandwich until the bread is crisp and golden-brown, and the cheese is starting to melt. Flip the sandwich and repeat with the second side. Remove from heat.
Slice the sandwich and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 1,280 Fat 93 g Sodium 1,960 mg
Carbohydrates 78 g Saturated fat 26 g Total sugars 16 g
Protein 35 g Cholesterol 120 mg Dietary fiber 8 g
Exchanges per serving: 4 starch, 1 carb, 3 high-fat protein, 13 fat.
Quick-Pickled Carrots and Daikon
Makes 3 cups drained pickles.
Note: From Noelle Carter.
• 3/4 lb. carrots (about 4)
• 3/4 lb. daikon radish root
• 3/4 c. sugar
• 1 c. rice wine vinegar
• 1 tbsp. kosher salt
Peel and finely julienne the carrot and daikon, and place in a glass or nonreactive container or bowl.
In a saucepan, heat the sugar, 1 cup water, vinegar and salt over high heat, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Continue heating just until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the vegetables.
Stir the mixture, coating the vegetables and making sure they are submerged (if necessary, weight them down to keep them under the liquid). Set aside for 1/2 to 1 hour to quickly pickle, then cover and refrigerate. This will keep, refrigerated, up to 2 weeks.
Nutrition information per ¼ cup:
Calories 25 Fat 0 g Sodium 140 mg
Carbohydrates 6 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 5 g
Protein 0 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb.