Ok, so I went back and forth about how to approach this, my very first blog post on food.
If you know me personally, you already know that I LOVE (not yelling, just emoting) good food. You can miss me with fast food any day of the week. Truth is, I simply adore a well-prepared and well-presented meal. It doesn’t have to be a complicated dish or from a Michelin rated restaurant, though I certainly can appreciate that too. Oftentimes, it’s the simple ingredients prepared in simple but unexpected ways that make the most impact on me. Things like a fillet of fish and some corn grits that I typically have in my kitchen anyway. And some fresh, in-season vegetables that only require me to take a stroll in the local farmers market to procure.
Shishito peppers are one of those things. Being featured only in the summer, they simply beg me to put handfuls of them in my shopping bag – yes, they talk to me and I listen :). When I see them, I am instantly inspired to dream up creative ways to prepare them. And while you can do beautiful, “Chef-Esque” things with them, they shine on their own as a mono-meal or appetizer.
In about 15 minutes, you can have wonderfully roasted Shishito peppers to snack on as you sip some tea, wine, or a cocktail with friends. You can roast them with olive oil and flaky salt and you’re good to go. Serve alongside a creamy dip (something peanutty, or lemony, or even a nice whole grain spicy mustard) and enjoy. The entire pepper can be eaten, minus the stem. Don’t worry, they aren’t spicy.
If you are like me and you attempt to eat them all summer long, at some point you may want a change of pace with the flavor. You can spice them up with sesame seeds and a bit of roasted sesame oil. They are also nice when tossed with a bit of fresh lemon juice. I think they would be lovely added to an omelet. And they also pair well with another fantastic summer feature – the tomato. In the latter case, I would make tomato bruschetta, include the roasted peppers, and top with a creamy, aged balsamic.
Disclaimer: I used cashew milk and quick grits in this instance because it is what I had on hand. I’d never used cashew milk before to cook with but it worked just fine, so I would venture to say that any milk would work. In times past, I mostly cooked with stone-ground grits and used heavy cream in place of milk. Be aware that with stone-ground grits, the grits to liquid ratio is 1 cup of grits to 4 cups of liquid and the cooking time is longer – but worth it! And heavy cream makes a wonderfully creamy additive to grits, but I am cutting back on dairy these days, hence the substitution. Coconut milk also works well to create a smooth, creamy consistency. Cheddar, pepper jack, gouda, and any smoked cheese work well in grits, though you should feel free to explore here. I aim to provide a framework for you to explore – not to get stuck within a box. There is no right or wrong here, as long as you love it!
SERVES 4 4 fillets of any flaky white fish, I used catfish 2 cups of liquid (either water or stock) 1 1/2 cups of milk (I used cashew milk but any milk will do) 1 cup of quick (not instant) grits 3 tbsp butter (I used Earth Balance but any butter will work) 4-8 oz of cheese 1 tsp of table salt 1 tomato, sized for slicing flaky salt to taste, I used Maldon sea salt pinch of kosher salt Olive oil, enough to coat the peppers Shishito peppers, washed and towel dried (I had ~ 24 in number) 1 clove of fresh garlic, chopped 1/2 sweet onion, chopped 1 tsp smoked paprika 1 tsp chipotle pepper powder 1/4 cup of herbs, dried or fresh. I used oregano, thyme, sage, and lemon balm because that's what I had on hand.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a cast-iron skillet into the oven to preheat as well. Toss the Shishito peppers in olive oil and sea salt.
Bring 2 cups of liquid, the table salt, and half of the milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Lower the heat to just below medium. Add grits and 1 tbsp of butter to the saucepan. Cover the saucepan. Be mindful to stir well after adding the grits and to return to the pot within another minute to stir well again or the grits will be clumpy. When the grits are creamy and soft, add the rest of the milk and the cheese. Stir well. Continue to simmer on low heat. Keep the pot covered and stir occasionally to prevent sticking to the pan. Add small amounts of liquid if the grits are too thick for your taste.
Saute the chopped onions in a frying pan with 2 tbsp of butter on medium heat. Add a generous pinch of kosher salt to the onions and stir. Once they soften or become clear, add the chopped garlic and saute for another few minutes. Add the herbs, paprika, and chipotle to the oil and stir well. If the mixture appears dry, add another tbsp of butter or oil. Add the fish fillets to the pan and gently cover them with the seasoning mixture you just created. After a few minutes (~ 3) at medium heat, gently flip the fish over. Cook on low heat for a few more minutes. Then remove pan of fish from the heat.
When the cast-iron skillet is hot, remove it from the oven with oven mitts and add the peppers. Make sure the peppers are lying flat in the skillet and not touching each other. If they touch, they will create steam and your peppers will be soggy, not charred. Return the skillet to the oven. Roast the peppers in the oven for 7-15 minutes, until they are blistered, partially charred, and puffy.
When you remove them from the oven, the peppers that are puffy will deflate. If you have kids, let them watch and enjoy. It may make the difference between whether they are willing to try the peppers or not.
If you try this recipe, please let me know! I would love your feedback.