22 September 2009

Pepper Paste

Thanks to a generous gift of hot red peppers from my mother-in-law I was able to embark on a first-time journey of making Turkish red pepper paste, or "biber salcasi". In the southeast of Turkey where I sojourned for a year, no kitchen is complete without a bucket of pepper paste handy. Yes, a bucket. In Gaziantep cuisine, food prepared without at least a spoonful of this rich, zesty red goo is pretty rare.

In high summer, when the spicy red bell peppers are peaking, Antepli housewives hunker down with their buckets and knives and pare loads and loads of peppers for grinding. Once ground, the peppers morph into an orangey "soup" that is poured into pans and set out in the hot sun to thicken over a period of days. Each day the pepper soup is worried over and stirred. It's color begins to brighten as water evaporates off. Finally, it is paste. Olive oil and salt are added as preservatives and the paste is stashed under the kitchen sink or another convenient location to be dipped into daily for soups, meat dishes, kofte, to spread on bread, you name it.

I was not so fortunate as to have a reliable stretch of hot, sunny days, so had to resort to using the oven, set at 200F, to make my pepper paste over a period of several hours (I did it along with my dried tomatoes). I was also not so fortunate as to end up with a whole bucket of it the lovely goo. Rather, from 12 hot peppers and two large sweet red bell peppers my labors yielded about two cups of this delightful stuff. It is so precious to me, that I even had a dream last night about one of my sisters shamelessly using up all but a few spoonfuls of it in a single day! I was happy to wake and discover my jar of pepper paste silently, calmly holding out on my fridge shelf, just where I'd left it.

The Peppers (and how they shrunk) . . .

orangey soup stage

Finally, biber salcasi!


  1. The pepper pun was not lost on me! and I haven't even read that old classic book.

    Have you even seen those bees at your window agian since you jarred up the pepper paste? I wonder if the Turks ever have that problem?

  2. If anyone should register a good pun, it should be you! And the bees are gone, so it must've been the sweet pepper juice they were after. In their dreams!