A chubby Superman in a fading blue costume takes pictures with tourists, children chase a giant yellow Minion and I’ve got my eye on the pile of green goodies on a neighbor’s plate. Visiting Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is a feast for both the eyes (plenty of street artists) and taste buds (plenty of cafés). But my husband and I have gotten off to a slow start.
Thinking a pitcher of sangria and a plate of meat was the way to go, we chose accordingly, only to gaze with envy at deliveries made to nearby tables. “What are those?” I ask the waiter, pointing to the mountain of green the people at the next table are devouring. “Padrón peppers,” he tells me, and our order quickly expands.
Where have these little green gems been all my life, and when can I have some more?
The northwestern Galician town of Padrón — once a popular haunt of pilgrims heading to Camino de Santiago — apparently has a helluva green thumb. The peppers originally hail from here, though they’re now grown in different parts of the world and readily available off-season thanks to the advent of greenhouses. When our orders arrive, I pick up a stem and let the rest of the fried, salted pepper melt in my mouth. I fall instantly for its warm, salty charm. Most have a mild taste, but a few offer surprising zings — part of the fun is not knowing which ones pack more of a punch — and my husband and I quickly realize we’ve discovered the Spanish equivalent of french fries. We gobble all the peppers up, leaving our other dishes languishing. Once the peppers are gone, I want to know two things: Where have these little green gems been all my life, and when can I have some more?
Turns out, I’m not alone. Brits are readily seduced by these succulent pementos — so much so that they’re a staple at most Galician and Madrid bars and restaurants as well as London’s Spanish eateries. Jose Rodriguez of El Pirata of Mayfair says Padrón peppers are one of his restaurant’s most popular dishes, and the best part is that they’re really simple to make.
All you need are Padrón peppers — sourcing them may prove the hardest part, so check with local suppliers — olive oil and sea salt. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Once very hot, add the peppers “for 30 seconds to a minute and keep moving them around,” Rodriguez says, until their skin begins to blister. Plate them, sprinkle with sea salt and serve warm. “It’s as easy as that,” Rodriguez says with a laugh.
Trying the peppers in Plaza Mayor, where a holiday atmosphere and sangria set the tone, may be more fun. But there’s no reason not to try them at home, and you could even wheel them out for dinner parties — peppering (yes, pun intended) your guests with a fine taste of international cuisine.
Explore the world
This year, OZY is going Around the World, bringing you untold stories from every single country on the map, one day at a time, to introduce you to new people, new trends and new places.