Turkish Red Pepper Paste
Turkish red pepper paste – a delicious way to make gorgeous seasonal red peppers last into the winter.
Although my trip to Turkey was a little while ago now, it is never far from my mind – especially given the precarious state of things in that country today. Turkish food is amazing – there was nothing that I didn’t like about everything I ate there – and I’ve managed to incorporate some of it into my own cooking repertoire.
The Turkish food scene is an exciting one and their culinary tradition, based on Ottoman cuisine, is an enticing blend of old Oriental and more modern European influences. The Turks clearly love food and seem to be always prepared to sit down and eat – no matter where they are.
Adjacent to my hotel in Istanbul was an empty block which was used as a car park. Curious about the unmistakable smells of barbecued food that came wafting in my room one afternoon, I peeked out the window to find a group of three men sitting down at a makeshift table while a fourth grilled fresh fish over charcoal on an improvised grill. They ate, chatted, and an hour later were gone, with no sign they had ever been there in the first place – except for a few optimistic cats hanging around.
This is a culture that makes every effort to extend the seasonal crops and there are always long strands of dried vegetables hanging at every market stall. Another thing that I found at every food stall was a deep red, rich paste called biber salçasi, or Turkish red pepper paste. This is a staple in many Turkish kitchens and can be bought here in Australia in jars in the supermarket. It is made with either red chilli peppers or sweet red peppers (capsicum) or a mixture of both and is used in soups, dips, stews and sauces – anywhere you can think to add punch of flavour or heat.
While I’m all for making my life easier by buying something ready-made if it is of good quality, I can see no reason not to use the abundance of capsicums that are in season here at the moment to make this delicious Turkish Red Pepper paste. The process to make this is simple, if a little time consuming, and you can make your biber salçasi as fiery (or not) as you like. Me – I’m a chilli coward so there’s no heat in this recipe at all, but do play around with it.
Turkish Red Pepper Paste
- 2 kg red capsicums peppers, washed and dried
- 60 mls olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)
- Char the capsicums, one at a time, over an open gas flame on the stove or over a hot barbecue until the skin is blackened and blistered. Place the cooked capsicums into a large plastic bag until cooled. This will make them sweat and easier to peel. When cooled, peel the peppers - the skins will simply slip off the flesh - and remove the seeds.
- Place peeled peppers in a colander for 15 minutes to drain excess fluid.
- Put the cooked capsicum flesh, the olive oil and the salt into a food processor and blitz until completely smooth, then pour into a greased shallow baking dish.
- Place this in the oven for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, stirring it well every 45 minutes or so and cook until reduced by about half.
- Allow to cool a little, then put paste into a sterilised jar, cover the top with olive oil and refrigerate.