Padron Peppers

by Lisa Rosen on September 15, 2011

I stumbled across these peppers at one of the local farmer’s markets.  The sign said Padron Peppers, which sounded familiar.  I didn’t buy them right away; I went home and looked them up.  They’re a Spanish pepper, not often available in this country.

That was all I needed to know–I wanted them.  I started plotting to go back to the market the next weekend.  In the interim, I kept digging around, thinking about what I might do with them once I got my greedy little hands on them.

In Spain, they’re traditionally served as a tapa, or a bar snack–that’s why the name sounded familiar (the Spanish are masters of the bar snack–I love tapas beyond all reason).  Preparation is super-easy–blister them in a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  My favorite description was this article by Calvin Trillin; by the time I finished reading it, I not only wanted those padrons, I needed them.  When Lee woke me up at 7 o’clock Saturday morning (seven!  an obscene hour on a weekend morning) I popped out of bed, ready to race off to the market.

I worried, though, on the way there, that this would turn out to be another Lemon Cucumber Incident.*  I made a beeline to the pepper booth, and there they were–all piled up, a mound of beautiful, shining peppers, a deep, vegetal green.  The largest ones in the pile were only a couple of inches long; most were about the size of a shelled cashew, or a little bigger.  I dumped hands-ful in a paper bag, and scurried home with my plunder.

So how were they?

I followed those loose instructions, and gave them a quick sizzle in hot olive oil.  Lee, never able to wait till dinner’s on the table, plucked one out of the pan and popped it in his mouth.  I watched, waiting for the verdict, while he chewed and contemplated.  “It tastes . . . green.  In the same way green beans are green.”

Hunh.  Maybe this really was another Lemon Cucumber, after all.  So I ate one.  It was, indeed, very green.  I tried another, just to be sure, and then another.  About halfway through the bowl, I remarked that I could see the appeal of working through a mound of peppers, washing them down with beer.  Lee mumbled agreement, and dumped the rest of the bowlful onto his plate.

For some people, apparently, the appeal is the unpredictable occurrence of the occasional incendiary specimen.  Everything I read said that while padrons are generally completely heat-less, about one in five might be blazing hot.  Out of all the peppers I ate that night, I only came across one with any heat at all, but that one?  Nearly blew my head off.

Padron peppers.  I’m convinced.

*The Lemon Cucumber Incident happened ten or twelve years ago.  In my winter perusing of the seed catalogs, I came across a novelty item called a lemon cucumber (they’re a bit more common now). I read the description, and bit–hook, line and sinker.  It sounded like the best thing ever, and I don’t even like cucumbers.  Crisp, delicate, tangy, sweet–like a lemon!  In your backyard!  I couldn’t wait to grow my own.  We planted and watered and nurtured and watched, hovering over the vine, waiting for our miracle cucurbits.  The first one grew and ripened and finally came ready.   We plucked it from the vine; I handed it to Lee for the first bite.  “It tastes like . . . a cucumber.”

My disappointment was profound.  I am still bitter.  And I still don’t like cucumbers.

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