I recently discovered that I’ve been thinking about peppers the wrong way. In my head, I’ve been subconsciously dividing peppers into “hot” and “not hot” categories and serving the kids the peppers from the latter category. But as I’ve come to realize from reading The Great Pepper Cookbook from Melissa’s Produce, there’s an enormous range between the two, and there are quite a few kinds of peppers on the “just barely hot” part of the spectrum that are very interesting for kids and tender-palated adults.
On the Scoville scale, which measures the heat of peppers, your typical bell peppers are at the zero-heat end of the range; and the world’s hottest pepper, the scorpion pepper goes as high as 2 million. But just at the 100 to 1000 range, you have padron, shishito, and cherry bell peppers to choose from. And if you’re willing to go just a tad hotter, you have fresh Hatch chilies starting as low as 250.
Intrigued, I decided to learn more about the shishito pepper, also known as the Japanese pepper, a chile pepper that is about two to four inches long and about 1/2 inch wide. It has bumpy, wrinkled skin that distinguishes it from some of its hotter relatives like Thai chile peppers or jalapenos. It is completely edible, seeds and all; although we removed the seeds when cooking with them. A taste test of the raw pepper revealed just a very subtle, mild heat – something that most kids probably would not mind.
One of the first shishito recipes to catch my eye in the new pepper cookbook was this Fresh Fruit Crunch. Chile peppers in a fruit dessert? It makes sense, as Melissa’s points out, because technically chiles are berries. I made this recipe without the pomegranates because we didn’t have any on hand; the resulting fruit mixture was sweet and creamy with just the slightest heat. It’s super-easy and fast to make, and aside from seeding and coring the peppers, any kid could help make this treat.
Fresh Fruit Crunch, via The Great Pepper Cookbook from Melissa’s Produce
1/2 cup pomegranate arils
1 T. vanilla extract
6 fresh shishito chile peppers, stems and seeds removed, chopped
2 mangos, pitted, peeled, and cubed
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cubed
2 pears, peeled, pitted, and cubed
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 T. butter, melted
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, combine pomegranates, vanilla, chile peppers, mangoes, apples, and pears. Spoon fruit mixture evenly into 6 small ramekins or baking dishes.
20. In a small bowl, combine oats, pecans, brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon. Spoon mixture evenly over fruit mixture in the dishes. Bake dishes until oat mixture is browns and fruit mixture is heated through, about 20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Optional: Serve with a scoop of ice cream. Serves 6.
Our 10-year-old happily ate this and described it as “kind of a spicy apple granola.” This is a pretty good description, and come to think of it, although you’ll probably want to serve this warm, you could serve it cold for breakfast the next day too. We won’t tell.
The Great Pepper Cookbook will be available on April 15 in bookstores and online at Melissa’s Produce.