The Sweet Side of Japanese Green Peppers
July 24, 2017
Summer has officially arrived, meaning that a whole new crop of fresh vegetables are now in season in Japan. The hot and humid weather calls for lighter recipes using lots of seasonal vegetables, in order to stay cool in the relentless heat. Japanese green peppers, known as piman in Japanese, are one of those delicious summer vegetables that reach their peak in summertime.
Bitter with a sweet side
The Japanese green pepper, like other types of peppers, is a member of the capsicum family (commonly called chili pepper), which originates from the American continent. As for their introduction to Japan, it is believed that green bell peppers came from the United States during the early Meiji Era (1868-1912) and were given the name piman, a term derived from the French word “piment”. This is perhaps because French cuisine was the most influential type of Western cuisine at the time in Japan. Green peppers became widely used in Japan after World War II, and they have been used as a regular ingredient in Japanese cuisine ever since.
Japanese green peppers are much smaller than their North American counterpart. In general, they are about one third the size of the type that is most commonly sold in North America. The Japanese green pepper is a bit less plump and is more narrowly shaped. The skin is also thinner, which means it requires a shorter cooking time. Inside of the pod, multiple seeds can be found. The Japanese green pepper is sweet with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The delicate bitterness in green peppers is due to their immaturity, which lessens as they ripen.
Children and the green pepper
Despite how sweet, tangy and delicious they are, Japanese green peppers sadly have a bit of a bad reputation amongst the toughest crowd: children! In Japan, it is universally known that many kids tend not to like green peppers. Year after year, they are selected as the vegetable that is one of the most disliked by children.
Actually, in the Japanese version of the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out there is an "eat your vegetables" scene in which broccoli was replaced by green peppers because they are more hated by Japanese children. The scene originally showed the animation's main character Riley throwing a tantrum in disgust at the idea of eating broccoli for dinner. However, since Japanese children typically like broccoli, it was changed to green peppers so audience members could relate better.
There are many tasty ways to consume green peppers that please even the picky tastebuds of children. Moreover, in Japan, young kids are introduced to a variety of seasonal produce at a very early age. For example, at some nursery schools, children as young as one, two and three years of age learn how to cook with green peppers in summer as part of the curriculum and get to sample some different dishes using that ingredient, therefore encouraging them to learn to enjoy this particular vegetable.
Tasty green pepper recipes
The Japanese green pepper is a very versatile ingredient, and can be used to create (and spice up!) various recipes. Here are a few favorites:
Stuffed green peppers:
This classic yoshoku (which literally means “Western food” and comprises of a wide range of American and European dishes that were imported to Japan, then reinvented to fit local tastes) dish gives the green peppers more sweetness while they cook. Therefore, it makes them easier to appreciate, especially for children. They are not difficult to make and are very pretty to look at. Green peppers are simply stuffed with a mix of meat, onions, egg(s) and seasonings, then baked. It’s a filling and appetizing dish.
Stir-fried beef and green peppers:
The key in this recipe is to keep in mind how you cut the green peppers. When they are cut lengthwise in half along the fibers, they lose some of their bitterness. Frying them also makes them sweeter and more enjoyable. To create this easy and healthy stir-fry, just use a frying pan to stir-fry beef, onions and peppers along with some seasonings. It can be enjoyed with a side of rice.
Green bell pepper and sesame salad:
This simple and healthy salad is a great side dish to put in a bento box, or to accompany dinner. Remove the seeds from inside the peppers, thinly slice, then blanch and strain them. Next, combine some sesame seeds and a bit of sugar, and heat up in the microwave. Finally, coat the sliced peppers with the sesame seed mixture and some soy sauce for a quick and delicious side dish.
Text: Vivian Morelli