Within the world of capsicums, shishito peppers are the best ones for playing Russian roulette. Nine out of ten are sweet as can be. Then — bang — number ten is spicy. “My wife always gets the spicy one,” chef Nir Mesika tells the Voice. Mesika serves them simply, charcoal-grilled, as a snack at his Israeli restaurant, Timna (109 St. Marks Place; 646-964-5181). “It’s like fate. No matter how many we eat, she always finds it.” With a cold beer and some of Mesika’s famed bread (don’t miss the kubaneh, a Yemenite specialty), the emerald-green chiles make an ideal bar snack.
The slender, finger-like peppers can be found at many of our farmers’ markets right now. Over at the Abingdon Square Greenmarket, Bodhitree Farm is displaying abundant basketfuls. “It doesn’t matter whether you pick big ones or small ones,” a worker at the stand reports, scooping a couple handfuls into a bag. “They’re all just as good. I like to roast them with lots of salt and pepper. They’re the perfect pepper to cook because the skin is so thin and tender.”
Heat up the broiler, the sauté pan, or the oven. If you’re a cautious cook, stab a small hole in each pepper to ensure that it won’t burst open during cooking. Toss with olive oil and season well, then fire away until tender and charred in places — that thin skin chars easily, imparting a dark, almost smoky flavor.
Alternate shishito peppers, cherry tomatoes, and halloumi cheese on kebabs; julienne cooked peppers and use to top a salad of warm fava beans, arugula, lemon juice, and extra-virgin olive oil.
At Timna, Mesika serves an aioli with smoked paprika and a lima bean salad alongside the peppers. “It brings out the sweet-spicy flavor of the peppers,” he explains. But equally, a squeeze of lemon, splash of soy sauce, spoonful of hummus, sprinkling of crumbled feta and thyme, or a dollop of thick Greek yogurt stirred with grated garlic all make convivial accompaniments.