When I was young, my grandmother would teach me and my cousins how to eat hot peppers. I remember sitting outside in the garden and my grandmother would take one of the long, thin green hot peppers, Sivri Biber.
She would first start by breaking off the small piece of the tip, hold it up and tell us that the tip is the least hot part of the pepper. Handing it to us and watching us struggle with the first bits of heat hitting our mouth, she would lovingly laugh and tell us to have a bite of bread. Bread would soak up the spice and calm down our burning tongues. Never water, never ever because it would make your mouth burn stronger.
As we got older, she would slowly break off bigger pieces, moving up the pepper to the hotter portions. We were from Adana, she would say, we needed to learn how to take the heat.
You see, Adana is known for its spicy food. One night when my cousin and I were out at a restaurant, we added our usual amount of hot red pepper to whatever we had ordered. Apparently this seemed a lot to the guys at the next table who felt the need to comment: So, that’s a lot of hot pepper you put there..What, are you from Adana or something?
All we could do was burst out laughing and my cousins replied: Actually, we are!
So here we are, lots of red pepper and a pepper paste…A history of peppers and now what do you DO with it?
Peppers came to Turkey by Spaniards returning from adventures in South America after Columbus discovered aji on the island of Hispanola. The Turkish word for hot pepper is Acī biber, the root of Acī stemming from where they originated from.
If you can’t tell, I am a bit of a dork and arranged the pepper from finest grain to the biggest and darkest one.
The Finest grain, Toz biber, is as fine as a powdered sugar. The spice is concentrated and resembles the familiar cayenne pepper. I use this mainly with melted butter when I want to drizzle some heat on top of meats, garlicky yogurt, or even eggs. Because it is so fine, it melts or blends into the butter, evenly distributing the heat.
Pul Biber is finely cut dried Maras red peppers from the southeastern city of Kahramanmaras which it is grown near the border with Syria. The pepper is cut finely or called “silk cut” because of how small the pieces are and how it can easily be mixed with other spices in a turkish kitchen. This heat hits more of the sides of the tongue, doesn’t linger long but adds that extra punch in your food.
Aleppo pepper or Iri Dis, “big tooth” pepper, brown-red, rough-cut and the hottest of reds. This can easily be found in most Mediterranean specialty food markets. It differs from italian red pepper flakes as the heat comes mainly from the red pepper and not just from the seeds. I love to sprinkle this pepper on top of everything from salads to pizza. It works well in a marinade as its big flakes holds a lot of flavor and naturally releases it into the meat after a long marinade.
My favorite pepper spice to use is Isot, or Urfa pepper. It is a beautiful dark purple pepper from the Urfa region of Gaziantep. Urfa chilies turn purplish black after they have been alternately sun-dried and sweated at night. Farmers set the peppers up on their roofs to dry each day. Because of the high heat during the summer months, the peppers naturally dry and sweat on their own. There is a beautiful smokey finish to this heat that hits your more at the back of your mouth.
It is more of an oily pepper and makes deep red/purple colored infused olive oil that is perfect for dipping your breakfast toast in with a bite of feta cheese.
Lastly, we have pepper paste. For a long time, you couldn’t find pepper paste here in the US. It’s mom’s favorite thing to bring back from Turkey. If you know mom, you know that she is this tiny cute little lady, but don’t EVER try and take her pepper paste away at customs! She is fiesty when it comes to protecting her stash in front of customs officials!
Like the Urfa peppers, Southern villagers fill trays with red peppers, hot or mild, and place them on their flat roofs to dry and concentrate the flavor. Then, they crush them and store them in jars for the winter. A tablespoon here or a couple there are mixed into meats, salads, pretty much everything if it was up to my mom! If you are looking for some fun recipes to try with pepper paste, check out this link with ten good recipes to keep you occupied while at home!
You can easily find pepper paste in Mediterranean markets next to the Aleppo pepper. They now sell jars of both hot pepper paste in addition to mild. Go with the Hot one, I know you want to!