Urban Forager

Flash fried shishito peppers, a popular tapas treat Right: Mike Kosaka of Amazia Farm picking from his bumper crop of shishito peppers.

Pecking on shishito peppers

Snacks, those tasty repasts can tide us over to the dinner hour or become the focus of a meal itself. Grazing through a variety of flavours and textures can be far more exciting than a singular plate of food.

The tapas culture of Spain is proof: satisfying bite-sized appetizers or tapas, served hot or cold, with a glass of sherry, cava or other libation. The dishes can be as simple as mixed olives and cheese, slices of jamon and the renowned potato-based tortilla, or more sophisticated fare. In fact, tapas are what first introduced me to padron peppers.

Pimientos de padron are small, elongated, almost conically-shaped green peppers that hail from Padron, in the Galicia region of Spain. But it wasn’t Spain where I first encountered them but at a Seattle restaurant specializing in the cuisine of the Basque region.

Flash-fried in oil until blistered, they were served simply with a sprinkling of sea salt flakes. Earthy and sweet, the fried pepper’s flesh provides a delightful melt-in-your-mouth experience – the perfect snack. The experience spurred me on to eventually grow my own and then seek out local farmers, who are far better at cultivation than I.

Lately, another pepper, the shishito has usurped the padron in popularity, not in Spain, but in B.C. — including the South Okanagan.

An East Asian variety, it is very similar in size, shape and flavour to the padron, seems to be much more prolific and is the darling of many a restaurant menu.

I have pots of both padron and shishito peppers growing this year, and the latter is surpassing the former in terms of yield. It has become our household’s snack time favourite at the cocktail hour.

Pan searing is the easiest and simplest way to cook them. Just heat a slick of olive oil on high and throw in the peppers, tossing them about to obtain a nice even blistering. Serve with lemon, or lime — or neither, and a bit of coarse salt or sea salt flakes. The salt elevates the pepper’s earthiness and any citrus offers a note of fresh acidic lift, especially for shishitos.

I find the smaller the pepper the better the mild flavour, especially with padrons. They can randomly pack some serious chilie heat, especially when they start growing beyond three inches in length. And unless you like playing Russian roulette with your palate, I would suggest slicing the larger ones lengthwise, stuffing with cheese and baking. It will subdue their bite.

Somewhat.

Shishitos are in seasonal abundance right now and you can purchase your next tapas course through several local organic farmers.

On the seven and half acre organic Amazia Farm in Oliver, Mike Kosaka is harvesting from his 70-foot row of shishitos this year. Citing the best crop ever, he has watched the pepper’s popularity increase exponentially.

For example, three years ago, he could only count on selling six, half-pound baskets a week. Now he sells 40 to 50 baskets weekly through each of the three Okanagan Nature’s Fare Markets.

(The Penticton location sells the most, something Kosaka attributes to Pentictonites being more curious about food culture.) Smaller amounts can also be found at Quality Greens, and at Oliver Eats.

An avid cook, Kosaka prepares the peppers by deep-frying them for 15 seconds, served with a bit of salt, or on the barbecue with a squeeze of lemon juice.

He notes they’re also delicious in a tempura batter, and one year, two Japanese WWOOFers (volunteer workers on organic farms) pan-seared them with a splash of sake, soy and sugar, served over a bowl of rice – something I’m definitely going to try.

Matt Nickson of Oxbow Flats Farm in Oliver started growing the peppers for the first time this year at the request of customers. He has a surfeit of them available through the Penticton Farmers’ Market, the Sunday Peachland Farmers’ Market, or by request through the farm’s box delivery program.

For those who would rather be served them than cook them, you can enjoy padron peppers at Row Fourteen Restaurant at Klippers in Cawston. They prepare the tapas treat simply seared in cold pressed canola oil with sea salt, and in a dish with farro (hulled wheat), organic corn and Mountain Grana from Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co.

With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, a Penticton writer, cook and traveller, goes in search of the delectable.