Celebrate the Fourth with pop-in-your-mouth shishito peppers and grilled goodies

A vendor offers a plate of roasted, salted shishito peppers at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.

I have good news for the gentleman who called a couple of weeks back, asking for a local source of shishito peppers after reading about a Charleston chef's dish that included them. Off the top of my head, I wasn't sure and ventured a few guesses - but he already had checked those places with no success.

Saturday morning a week ago, I stumbled across shishito peppers at the Charleston Farmers Market under the Ambrose Farm tent. A few days later, I called Wadmalaw Island farmer Pete Ambrose to ask about them.

If you're not in the know about the delectable little shishitos, well, they started becoming trendy with chefs across the country a few years ago. So they're "hot," yet not really hot, at least most of the time. Read on.

Shishitos are finger-size slender pods, usually harvested while green, and are prized for their sweet taste and thin skins. They're a snap to pan-roast or put on the grill, sauteed or brushed with a little oil of choice. In short order, they cook and develop a blistery char. Sprinkle them with a bit of sea salt in a bowl, a tiny squeeze of lemon if desired, and you have a yummy summer hors d'oeuvre to pop in your mouth. Addictive and guilt-free.

Of course, you can incorporate them into any number of dishes as well.

Typically, these Japanese peppers are mild in heat. But occasionally (some say about one in 10) a spicy one shows up in the batch just to keep things interesting.

Ambrose says he first started growing them last year and estimates he has a quarter acre in them now. "I think some chefs told us they would like us to grow them," he recalls, and now he's doing a brisk shishito business with local restaurants, including Wild Olive, FIG and the Macintosh, among others.

In fact, restaurants often buy up every available pepper he has. "When we have some left over, we'll sell at the (farmers) market," Pete says. A quart container runs about $8.

People also may get them directly from the farm on Selkirk Plantation Road, Wadmalaw Island. Best to call first, 559-0988, to make sure the farm stand is open and that they have the peppers.

How long will they be available?

"We pick them until frost gets them," Pete says. "And we'll put in another crop." The farm also grew shishitos in its greenhouse over the winter last year.

Pete's become a fan himself.

"I've had them at home a number of times. I haven't found anybody that didn't enjoy them and it doesn't take much to prepare them." Pete says he's tried a few different seasonings, tossing them with lime juice ("that's interesting"); Parmesan cheese; and sesame seeds.

Happy 4th of July

Come Friday, a lot of you will be gathering around a grill for the holiday. So here's a sampling of recipes from the latest crop of cookbooks aimed at those who like to cook over a live fire.

Guy Fieri is one of the most known faces and personalities on food TV. His new book is "Guy on Fire," co-authored with Ann Volkwein, and it offers 130 recipes for outdoor cooking (William Morrow, $29.99).

Danger Dogs

(Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs With Spicy Fruit Relish)

Makes 4 servings



For the Spicy Fruit Relish:

1 pineapple, peeled, cored and quartered

2 mangos, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced

1 red onion, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup pickle relish

1 medium red chile (such as Fresno or cayenne), finely diced



Directions

Heat an oiled grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the pineapple and mango slices until they're grill-marked and caramelized, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove and let cool, then cut the fruit into 1/2-inch dice. Toss in a large bowl with the jalapeno, onion, olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Combine with the pickle relish and red chile. Set aside.



For the hot dogs:

4 slices applewood smoked bacon

4 large hot dogs

8 round pickled jalapeno slices, drained

Canola oil, for the grill

4 seeded hot dog buns

Ketchup (optional) for serving

Mustard (optional) for serving



Directions

Preheat the grill to medium and parcook the bacon on the grill for 1 or 2 minutes to render some of the fat, but don't let it get crispy. Set aside on paper towels.

Using a sharp knife, make a lengthwise cut down the center of each dog (not all the way through). Cut open the jalapeno slices and unravel them into long, thin strips. Place 2 strips of pickled jalapeno into each hot dog, spacing them out so they fill the length of the dog. Wrap each dog tightly with a strip of bacon and secure with toothpicks at each end to hold in place.

Coat the grill surface with canola oil to ensure the hot dogs don't stick; grill until the bacon is cooked through and crisp and the dogs are charred, rotating several times to cook the bacon evenly - 8 to 10 minutes total.

During the last minutes of grilling, split each bun and grill for 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove the toothpicks and nestle the hot dogs into the toasted buns. Top with spicy fruit relish and serve with ketchup and mustard, if desired.



Here's a flavorful alternative to beef burgers found in Weber's "Big Book of Burgers" by Jamie Purviance.

Chicken Popeye Sliders With Mozzarella and Pesto

Serves 6 (2 sliders per person)



For the patties:

11/2 pounds ground chicken, thigh meat preferred, or a mix

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup dry bread crumbs

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



For the peppers and assembly:

2 medium red bell peppers

Extra-virgin olive oil

12 slices mozzarella cheese

12 slider buns, each about 21/2 inches in diameter, split

Store-bought pesto



Directions

In a large bowl, combine the patty ingredients. Gently and briefly shape the mixture into 12 patties of equal size, each about 1/2 inch thick (roughly the size of the buns). Don't compact the meat too much. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350-450 degrees).

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the bell peppers over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until blackened and blistered all over, 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to trap the steam. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the charred skin, stem and seeds, and cut into 12 strips. Set aside.

Brush the patties on both sides with oil. Grill the patties over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until fully cooked but still moist, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once when the patties release easily from the cooking grates (if flare-ups occur, move the patties temporarily over indirect heat). During the last minute of grilling time, place a slice of cheese on each patty to melt, and toast the buns, cut side down, over direct heat.

Spread a thin layer of pesto on the cut sides of each bun and top with a bell pepper stirp and a patty. Serve right away.

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