Padron peppers are one of my favorite savory summer treats. They're bite-sized, full of flavor, and easy to cook. They aren't sweet like bell peppers, and, though they resemble spicy peppers, they're not.
At least, most of them aren't. A friend calls them "roulette peppers" because they say that one pepper out of every ten is hot. I've found that this varies from batch to batch, probably based on their growing conditions. Lately we've been finding baskets that have no heat whatsoever, whereas peppers from a different farm seem to be mostly (unbearably) spicy. Being the wimp that I am, I go out of my way to get the mild ones, but Jay likes living on the edge with the spicy surprises.
Either way, padrons need nothing more than a quick saute in olive oil until blistered and beginning to collapse, then a sprinkle of salt, and voilà. You can just eat them like popcorn for a simply stunning appetizer.
I can't quite explain what I find so thoroughly addicting about these peppers, but I do know I'm not the only one who goes absolutely bonkers for them.
Yes, our cat is inexplicably obsessed with padron peppers. I guess it runs in the family.
When we're feeling virtuous, we'll make a meal of a big bowl of cooked padrons and one of Jay's masterpiece salads. But for something more substantial, I've been adding them to warm tortillas piled high with taco fixings.
I up the goo factor with soft goat cheese, slices of ripe avocado, and cilantro lime crema. Diced tomatoes add color, sweetness and acidity. Sprinkling the diced tomatoes with salt and giving them a quick drain keeps the tacos from becoming soggy from their juices.
Slices of sweet red onion add crunch and a bit of heat. I've been in love with smoked salt lately (why have I only just discovered it?!), and here it adds depth and dimension for us deprived, grill-less city slickers with only a 1-square-foot fire escape's worth of outdoor space.
That is to say, should you be so lucky to roast your padrons over an open flame, you'll get a nice smokiness that way. If not, be like me and fake it with smoky salt. Even with all of those fixings, the flavor of the peppers still comes through.
Jay swears that these are his favorite tacos, ever. At least we agree on that.
Padron Pepper and Goat Cheese Tacos with Smoked Salt and Cilantro Lime Crema
Look for padron peppers at farmer's markets or fancy foodie stores throughout the late summer. If you're sensitive to spice, fry up a batch on their own first to test them out. Peppers from the same farm tend to have the same ratio of hot to mild peppers. If you get a hot one, you can spit it out; but if it's in your taco, you'll be stuck eating it.
Have all your other ingredients ready before frying the peppers so that they stay warm; they only take a few minutes to cook. For the tomatoes, I like to use one dry-farmed red, and one heirloom yellow; you may not need to use all the tomatoes. Be sure to drink the delicious juice they let off. It pays to seek out good corn tortillas; I like the corn-wheat hybrids for their pliable texture.
Makes four 6" tacos, 2 servings
2 small tomatoes
salt, as needed
1/3 cup sour cream
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, plus a few leaves for garnish
juice of half a lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pint basket padron peppers
a few pinches of smoked sea salt
4 (6-inch) corn tortillas (or a corn/wheat blend)
2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium-sized ripe avocado, halved, pitted, and sliced
several paper-thin slivers from a red onion
Dice the tomatoes, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and let drain in a sieve while you get on with the recipe.
In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, cilantro, lime juice, and a big pinch of salt. Taste, adding more lime or salt if you like. Set aside, or cover and chill for up to a day or two.
Use a pair of scissors to cut the stems off the peppers (their crowns are edible). Rinse the peppers and drain them well. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 10" cast iron skillet set over a medium flame until it shimmers. Add the peppers and cook, tossing occasionally, until blistered all over and blackened in places, about 5 minutes. They will pop and spit; lower the temperature if things are getting too crazy. Sprinkle with a few pinches of the smoked salt.
In another skillet, warm the tortillas on both sides until soft and pliable. Place the tortillas on a couple of plates, and build the tacos. I like the following order:
cilantro lime crema
Top with a sprinkle of smoked salt and a few cilantro leaves. Serve immediately, with lime wedges for squeezing over the tops.