Multi-sensory Market Discoveries [Shishito Shitake Shakedown]

Shopping at a farmers market awakens the senses and makes us realize that the exotic is not so far away. It’s a multi-sensory activity where we learn about, interact with, and become part of our surroundings. This week, we discovered that our favorite restaurant treat is available through a few of our farmers: Shishito Peppers!

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Shishito peppers are said to have originated in Eastern Asia. They are part of the Capsicum species, along with bell peppers and cayenne peppers. These crops generally do great in dry, hot climates and get more flavorful with more sun exposure. Lucky us – we’ve got plenty of that! Recently, shishito peppers have gained popularity and can be found usually as a finger-food appetizer at trendy restaurants. We found ours at Al Hamka Family Farm.

Shishito peppers vary greatly between crops – on the same vine, one may be sweet and mild while the one next to it is savory and spicy. That’s what makes them addictive! One local restaurant named them “Russian Roulette Peppers” because you never know what you’ll get, and if you’re into surprises, you’ll be digging for the hottest in the bowl.

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Since they’re so easy to prepare, why not try them at home? Maybe even on the grill! If you’re extra DIY, a lemon aioli is easily prepared in a blender – add a little smokiness or zing with paprika or apple cider vinegar.

To start our shishito dinner, we first reached for an ice-cold beer. Then, we threw our peppers in a grill basket with some lime juice and zest, garlic, soy sauce, black pepper, and canola oil to coat. We used a microplane for the lime zest and the garlic. They cooked on high heat for about 10 minutes, tossing every four minutes or so to ensure an even char. Next time, we intend to take the char even further than this go-around. Having too many peppers and not enough surface area makes for overcooked peppers without much texture – though never lacking in flavor. A nice blended salsa or sauce could be made with these if they do seem overcooked!

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We paired our shishitos with some shitake mushrooms from Southwest Mushrooms and some frozen potstickers. It made for a great weeknight meal that breaks up the monotony of salads, pastas, and meat-centric roasts. Each bite was definitely spicy! Dinner became a competition of how much heat we could handle…so it was nice to get the occasional mild pepper. Leftovers will go into brown rice with a drizzle of Saucy Lips Pineapple Thai sauce for take-along lunches.

Get inspired next time you’re at the Open Air Market by looking out for produce you don’t see year-round. A long, skinny pepper available by the handful? Ask the farmer what they usually do with it, where it comes from, why it thrives in our climate.

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