As delicious as they are misshapen, the gnarled little shishito pepper is abundant for a limited time right now at the farmers markets. It’s the most satisfying summer side dish and the biggest bang for your buck for the least amount of effort.

Originating in Japan, the shishito is said to have gotten its name from its tip, which to some resembles the head of a lion — in Japanese, shishi.  Known as kkwarigochu in Korea and similar to its Spanish cousin the padron, its peak season is summer and it’s the favorite of local chefs as a simple finger food skewered, grilled or simply blistered in a frying pan.  Heat level is usually mild, with about one in 10 being spicy.

Shishito peppers at the farmers market (Michele Stueven)

“My favorite way to prepare them is to just get something screaming hot, like a flattop or wok, and throw them in there,” celebrity personal chef and green goddess Sam Udell tells L.A. Weekly while making her rounds at the Culver City Farmers Market.

“It takes about four minutes to caramelize and blister them, it’s so fast and easy.  Then you can toss them with whatever your favorite flavorings are.   Sometimes I use lemon zest, Parmesan or Bonita flakes and lime zest.”

Shishitos sautéed with onions and garlic in cast iron (Michele Stueven)

“I love shishitos charred and tossed with just a little bit of garlic,” n/naka pastry chef, and no stranger to the savory,  Gemma Matsuyama chimed in at the impromptu shishito summit in Culver City.

Blistered Shishitos and BBQ Tomahawk (Michele Stueven)

Their peppery taste takes on a richer flavor profile and becomes slightly sweet and smoky when cooked.  Serve them as a side dish to summer BBQ, in pasta, as a cocktail finger food or tempura style.  They are a good match for Thai basil, sesame oil and fresh ginger (also currently available at the farmers market) and last for at least two weeks in the fridge.

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