Here in Maryland, we’re unfortunately in the wrong climate zone to grow our own avocados for toast. Cauliflower rice we can manage, but only with some challenges, since cauliflower is a space hog, doesn’t like the rollercoaster temperatures of our spring season, and has lots of pests. (Luckily, cauliflower is not super expensive in stores, and if you have a food processor, chopping it up literally takes minutes; you don’t need to buy it pre-riced.) Apparently cabbage is the trendy vegetable of 2019–cabbage rolls, cabbage chips, wedge salads, kimchi–but it has all the same problems in the garden. Kale is easier, but it’s so 2016.
What’s the trend-seeking gardener to do? Well, that’s easy. Grow shishito peppers.
You find them on the appetizer menu of every hot restaurant in town, and you can buy them in upscale supermarkets, if they don’t fly off the shelves before you arrive. But plan ahead a little, and next summer you can pick your own–maybe even more than you can deal with!
Shishitos are a bite-sized East Asian variety of sweet pepper, usually eaten green (though you can let them get red, too) and whole. They can be cooked by frying, roasting or grilling until blistered. What makes them fun is that about one in every ten will be spicy–but not painfully so, just enough that you need to take another gulp of your craft beer. They’re as easy to grow as any other pepper, produce prolifically, and, since you harvest them green, don’t make you wait. Seeds are widely available these days, and I’ve seen the plants for sale in spring as well. My two plants have been producing enough for side dishes several times a week. They’re nice compact plants, too, taking up two-thirds the space of my bell and Italian frying types. Mine are growing in a raised bed, but they should do well in containers if sufficiently watered.
I have to admit that I discovered shishitos due to their trendiness, but once they move off menus I’ll still be growing them, because they’re tasty and simple to prepare. Make room for this easy, fun vegetable in your own garden!
By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener