My brother José attended college in Hawaii in the late 1990s and never came back. After more than 20 years of island life, he's thoroughly adopted the ways of the locals (who are known as kama'aina), including their food culture. That's one reason that I've enjoyed reading all 300 pages of chef and restaurateur Sheldon Simeon's new cookbook, "Cook Real Hawai'i" (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, $35).

Born and raised on the Big Island by parents with Filipino roots, Simeon gained aplomb and accolades (nominations from the James Beard Foundation and Food & Wine magazine, two-time finalist on "Top Chef," among others) by cooking food that was "affordable and accessible to everyone, most of all locals — simple, honest, delicious food that spoke to the community."

Simeon's recipe for Blistered Shishitos with Furikake Ranch and Crispy Quinoa originated as an ad hoc staff meal at one of his restaurants. As he explains in the headnote, "It began with shishito peppers blistered in a screaming hot pan, because who doesn't love shishitos? I took some cooked quinoa that was on the line and threw it in the fryer until it turned nutty and crunchy. I mixed some furikake and ranch together, because delicious plus delicious equals more delicious."

Blistered or charred shishitos are now a mainstay veg dish, especially at shared plates concepts across the country (and fresh peppers are just as accessible to the home cook, found loose and pre-bagged at the supermarket). While shishitos are everywhere, chefs write their signature with sauces and seasonings. (Just the other day, I sampled an iteration by chef Christina Wai of Drawbar at the new Bellyard Hotel in West Midtown where the wrinkled peppers are paired with a saffron aioli.)

Simeon's version offers crunch, briny sea spunk and creamy zest. It's a terrific combination of tastes and textures that everyone — not just the kama'aina — will enjoy.



4 tablespoons neutral oil, divided 

1/2 cup cooked quinoa 

Kosher salt 

1 pound shishito peppers 

Garlic salt 

1/2 lemon, cut into wedges 

3/4 cup ranch dressing (made from Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix) 

3 tablespoons furikake, divided 

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. When it's shimmering-hot, add the quinoa to the pan and spread evenly. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and crisp, 5 to 15 minutes (depending on the quinoa's moisture content; freshly cooked quinoa will take longer). Drain the fried quinoa on paper towels and season with a pinch of kosher salt. Wipe the pan clean. 

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and place over high heat. Once the oil begins to smoke, add the shishitos. It's important that all the peppers touch the pan, so work in batches if necessary. Sear the peppers on all sides, turning occasionally, until they begin to blister and slightly char, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with garlic salt and a squeeze of lemon. Transfer to a plate and top with the fried quinoa. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the ranch with 2 tablespoons of the furikake. Serve it alongside the shishitos. Sprinkle the shishitos with the remaining 1 tablespoon furikake before serving.

Serves 2 to 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving, based on 4: 397 calories (percent of calories from fat, 75), 6 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 34 grams total fat (4 g saturated), 12 mg cholesterol, 668 mg sodium.

Reprinted with permission from "Cook Real Hawai'i" by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright © 2021. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.


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