Never had shishito peppers? You need to track them down. Right now.
First, a primer, then I'll explain why. Shishito peppers are small, thin Japanese peppers. They look a bit like a longer, thinner jalapeno. But the flavor is quite different. While jalapenos have thick flesh and an assertive heat most of us a familiar with, shishitos are thin skinned and generally sweeter than they are hot.
Except when they are not. For reasons that are debated online, one out of every dozen or so shishito peppers packs a punch. Nothing that will leave you gasping for air, but enough of a bite to wake you up.
During the past year or so, shishito peppers have become a darling of the restaurant scene. Nothing on the epic scale of ramps, which New York chefs in particular went a little crazy for a few years ago. And certainly nothing on the scale of the cupcake or slider. But they have been showing up on more and more menus across the country.
Shishito peppers generally are served as a starter, often heaped in a bowl and munched. And the prep couldn't be easier. They are cooked whole, usually with a splash of oil and just enough time in the skillet to lightly brown in spots. Seasonings can vary, though coarse salt is a must.
In addition to having a wonderfully addictive flavor — the trinity of oil, salt and a gentle heat helps here — shishito peppers are perfect for summer. They generally are shared, making them perfect for a backyard barbecue. And because they cook quickly and require intense heat, they adapt perfectly to the grill.
So here's my effort to get shishito peppers off the restaurant menus and into your summer grilling repertoire. I've tarted them up a bit with chopped almonds, but feel free to leave those off.
GRILLED SHISHITO PEPPERS
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1 pound shishito peppers, left whole
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided
1 tablespoon coarse or flake salt, such as Maldon or kosher
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
Heat a grill to high.
In a large bowl, combine the peppers and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Swirl and toss the peppers until evenly coated with the oil.
Using tongs, arrange the peppers on the grill so they lay across the direction of the grates (not with them). The goal is to prevent the peppers from falling through the grates. Cook, turning often, until the peppers begin to brown and blister, about 4 to 6 minutes.
Return the peppers to the bowl (no need to wipe it out). Add the remaining oil, the salt and almonds, then toss well. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 140 calories; 90 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 12 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 4 g protein; 1,450 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch