Summer is the time, where juicy, meaty, red peppers are turned into our flavour packed biber salçası, pepper paste in southern Turkey. It is a fundamental ingredient in southern Turkish cuisine. In my hometown of Antakya, village women cook huge batches of freshly picked spicy and mild red peppers and spread them out on top of their cloth covered terraces to dry under the hot summer sun, until the peppers dehydrate and turn into this robust, flavour-packed condiment. I am unable to sun dry my peppers as I live abroad, so I make my own version of red pepper paste at home, cooking them over stove top. It takes a bit of time to make but really is worth it. The homemade version is fragrant, delicious – not as intense as the commercial ones but packed with flavour; fantastic even spread over bread. Add more chilies if you like it spicier, it also freezes well.
I use pepper paste in so many ways, in the way I use tomato paste; it adds richess, enhances and adds depth of flavour to sauces, salads such as Spicy bulgur wheat salad, Kisir, marinades, dips such as Muhammara.
Makes 90ml/3fl oz pepper paste
3 long, large red peppers or bell peppers, cleaned, deseeded, cut into 4cmx4cm chunks
1 red chilli pepper, deseeded, finely chopped (use a few more if you like spicier)
240ml/8fl oz water
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
Place peppers in a wide pan and add the water. Cook over a medium heat, stirring often for about 35 minutes or until the peppers are cooked – gently press down and turn around as you stir, they will start to break apart and soften and the liquid has almost evaporated. Turn the heat off and allow the peppers to cool.
Place the cooked peppers in a food processor and process until the mixture is almost a smooth purée (I like the texture of small bits of peppers in it). Return the puréed peppers to the pan. Season with salt and cook over low heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring continuously so the purée doesn’t burn and the juices will have evaporated. The purée will shrink half of its size and turn into a soft paste. Turn the heat off.
Spoon the paste into a small sterilized glass jar while still warm, top with olive oil and seal. When cool, keep your prepared paste in the fridge and use within two weeks.