Still, the delicate little Japanese peppers—with a 1-in-10 chance of surprise spiciness—can be hard to find, especially out of peak season. So the dish hasn’t found at-home ubiquity in America—yet. With an ingredient workaround and some crafty seasoning, I would argue, now it can.
This week’s recipe comes from many-talented artist Michele Humes (2) and The Noodle Soup Oracle—the cookbook she wrote, illustrated, and, as she tells me, spent the better part of her life preparing for. It’s a nimble, freeing guide to making noodle soups with anything and everything at hand. These peppers are among the dozens of toppings to be mix-and-matched with whatever broth (homemade or zhushed-up store-bought) and noodles you choose.
I’ve also taken to making them as the fastest, simplest, and perhaps most thrilling green side I know. Because what once was an experience reserved for a fleeting farmers market darling can now be found with one of the least-loved (and therefore least-expensive and easiest-to-find) staples of the produce section: the humble green bell pepper, cut into lovable, shishito-sized curls.
“I wanted to give this little pepper a chance,” Michele told me. Thanks to the flash-seared green peppers served with beef and black bean sauce from her childhood in Hong Kong, Michele knows that unripened bell peppers are only mushy and flatly bitter when sautéed timidly—as well as how sweet and intense they can be with a good, swift scorch.
In just a couple minutes in a hot, heavy pan, their skin blisters and chars, while the green bits stay bright and alive. In the last moments, you frame them further: splashes of rice vinegar for vibrance, toasted sesame oil for nutty depth, shichimi togarashi for fire and umami, flaky salt for crunch.
But if you’re lacking any of these seasonings, don’t let that stop you. In the spirit of The Noodle Soup Oracle’s encouraging flexibility, Michele says any vinegar or lemon juice will do, as will crushed red chile flakes, cayenne, or other spikes of heat.
“It’s amazing when you get those black spots on the skin, how much flavor they give on their own,” Michele told me. “Obviously I say to add other flavor, but that’s just gravy.” So like shishitos, you can also just blister them and leave them be.
(1) If you’re able, please consider supporting small restaurants and their workers by buying merchandise or gift certificates, ordering takeout, or donating to the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation or other local organizations near you.
(2) Fun fact: Ten years ago, Michele created a series of food crossword puzzles for Food52. A decade later, they’re sadly no longer playable, but she’s recently designed a new one called “Poutine on the Passaic: Quarantine Crossword No. 1”—enjoy.
• 2 medium green bell peppers
• 1 tablespoon neutral oil (canola or peanut)
• 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
• Shichimi togarashi
• Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
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