Shishito pepper tempura

Time 40 minutes
Yields Serves 8
Shishito pepper tempura
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The first time I heard of shishito peppers, I was in New York standing on Sullivan Street waiting for a table at a sushi restaurant. Friends visiting from the West Coast who waited in line with me mentioned the Japanese peppers, practically swooning as they described them -- slightly sweet, barely spicy and wonderfully charred, served with a salty sauce. Sadly, they weren’t on the menu.

After that night, I looked for them every time I went to a Japanese restaurant, but I never found them in New York.

Within a week of my move to Los Angeles almost a year later, those same friends -- who, by the way, think “Shishito” would be a great name for their firstborn child -- took me to Murakami in West Hollywood. Before long, a plate of a dozen or so shishitos, fried and tossed with a mix of sake and soy sauce, arrived at our table.

They disappeared quickly as we picked them up by their stems and ate them, seeds and all. Tender and a little wilted, with a haunting, smoky flavor, they were completely addictive.

Since that moment, I have ordered them whenever possible before a feast of raw fish. They make a more complex start than edamame, adding an unexpected earthiness to the meal from the sea.

About 2 to 4 inches long, shishito peppers are similar in flavor to pimientos de Padron, a smaller green pepper from Galicia, Spain. They accompany the entrecote at La Amistad, my favorite restaurant in Castropol, a tiny town in Asturias, where my grandmother came from. There the steak arrives with a side of the peppers sauteed, glistening in olive oil and sprinkled with salt.

The pimientos are also served as a tapa throughout Spain, usually fried and piled up in a small dish, similar to the shishito appetizer.

On a recent visit to the Santa Monica farmers market, I spotted shiny green shishitos at the Yasutomi Farms stall and excitedly bought a bag.

I spent the rest of the day dreaming of how I’d prepare them that evening. I could have simply stir-fried them and eaten the whole bag as a market-day main course, but inspiration struck and instead I decided to have them over scrambled eggs.

I seeded and finely diced three peppers, sauteed them in olive oil and sprinkled them with salt. I scrambled three eggs with a little heavy cream and poured the mixture into a small frying pan, where a bit of butter quietly bubbled. I stirred the eggs constantly with a wooden spoon until they were barely done, spooned them onto a plate, sprinkled them with the diced shishitos, added a little more salt and took a bite. It was heavenly. The creaminess of the eggs and the dusky, sweet shishitos complemented each other so well that the dish, while it was quick, comfort food at the end of a long day, was also something special.

Shishitos are available at farmers markets and at Japanese markets such as Mitsuwa and Murakai. They’re in season between June and September and work best alone or in dishes with simple ingredients that don’t overpower their subtle flavor.

Summer lunch

A tortilla Espanola, the Spanish frittata full of creamy, golden potatoes and translucent onions, serves as a rich setting for julienned shishitos. It is delicious warm or at room temperature, and would be perfect for a summer lunch with cold gazpacho.

Shishito tempura, a more common way of using the peppers, is a fun finger food and easier to make than you might suspect. A simple batter of flour, egg yolk and Japanese beer, coats the peppers and, once fried, gives them a crispy shell. Serve them with two easy-to-make dipping sauces: mirin-soy (salty-sweet) and Valencia orange-plum (tangy-sweet).

A terrific condiment to make with shishito peppers is green tomato salsa. Grilled tomatoes, green onions and the shishitos combine with lime and cilantro to make a fresh, summery topping for sweet corn blini topped with a dab of creme fraiche.

A word of warning: Although shishitos are mild peppers, about one in 10 will have a stronger bite, so once in awhile, there will be an extra bit of heat -- but it’s nothing that popping another shishito into your mouth won’t take care of.


Mirin-soy dipping sauce


In a small bowl, stir together the mirin, lime juice, honey, soy sauce and ginger. Stir to blend. Set aside.

Valencia orange-plum sauce


In a small bowl, stir together the plum jam and orange juice until blended. Press the mixture through a strainer. Add the lime and orange zest and mix well. Set aside.



In a deep saucepan, pour enough oil to measure 2 1/2 inches deep. Heat the oil to 375 degrees.


Meanwhile, prepare the beer batter. Measure the flour into a bowl. Place the egg yolk in a measuring cup and lightly beat. Add enough cold beer to measure 1 cup. Add the beer mixture to the flour and lightly stir with two chopsticks just to mix ingredients. The batter will be slightly lumpy and thick. Do not over mix.


Set the bowl of batter into a larger bowl of ice water to keep it chilled while you’re frying the peppers.


Roll the peppers in flour to lightly coat, then dip them in the batter, draining off the excess. Fry the peppers 3 at a time in the hot oil until lightly browned, about 3 minutes, turning the peppers to brown all sides.


When the peppers are brown, transfer them to a paper towel-lined baking sheet or a rack to drain. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat with the remaining peppers. Serve hot with the dipping sauces.

Shishito peppers are available at farmers markets and at Japanese markets.