Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
The magical spice of eastern Turkey
If you want an easy way to help bring the flavors of your cooking alive in under a minute, you might want to pick up a jar of this terrific dried red pepper from Turkey. Marash pepper is magical. The more you use it, the more likely you’ll feel like a magician in the kitchen. My longtime friend and award-winning Boston chef Ana Sortun (at Oleanna and Sofra) said:
Marash is dear to my heart and I can’t cook without it now. I reach for it like most reach for black pepper and in fact it replaces black pepper in many cases. Its job is to lift flavor. Not to make something super spicy although you could use it this way, too. It’s sweet, warm, oily and vegetal and not too spicy. It’s perfect on everything including salad. I like to keep it in a shaker on the counter so it’s easy to shake over breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Marash is one of the most impressively flavorful dried red peppers I’ve ever tried. The peppers are grown in the town of Karanmaras, the pepper capital of Turkey—up until 1973 it was known merely as Maras. In either case, pronounce the “s” as an “sh.” I heard about these incredible red pepper flakes from friend and food writer Paula Wolfert. Paula, in turn, learned about them from Ayfer Unsal, an avid supporter of her homeland’s traditional foods. Thanks to Ayfer, we’ve been getting the Marash (and Urfa) pepper from Turkey ever since. Ayfer, I should add, has been teaching Turkish traditional cooking for years, and she’s always been working to enhance life in her community. She made it a particular focus to try to bring together Turkish and Armenian women in an attempt to heal the wounds of Armenian massacres early in the 20th century. She’s also engaged in a program to bring back the grandchildren of Armenian exiles to visit Turkey and be welcomed with dignity and honor. “Having them cook with me helps them feel at home in my house. When we enjoy food together, we can put aside the past.”
The peppers for Marash, all grown right around Karanmaras, are first sun-dried, then seeded, with just a tiny bit of salt added. When you get “red pepper flakes” in most pizza joints in one of those shaker jars, you’ll notice lots of seeds. The seeds add weight for the seller but no flavor for the eater. Marash, by contrast, is completely seed free. It has an amazingly full flavor with just a moderate amount of heat. By comparison, cayenne pepper is one dimensional—hot, but hardly flavorful. Use Marash red pepper on pasta, pizza, casseroles, or anyplace else you’d use red pepper flakes. Here’s a great bulgur salad from the folks at Oldways (through whom I first met Ana Sortun). And here’s a super simple, but delicious pasta recipe.
Marash pepper is woven into so many items on our menu at the Deli, that 25 years later that it’s hard to imagine life without it. At the Roadhouse we use it in the vinegar sauce for the pulled pork, the refried beans, and then some. We use it at the Bakehouse in the savory kitchen. And I have two jars of it sitting on our kitchen table at home (about 16 inches from where I’m typing right now) to use on salads, pasta, eggs, and just about everything else. One of the things that Paula Wolfert taught me about Marash many years ago is that if you mix the flakes with citrus juice it will relatively quickly break down into a paste. Mix the pepper flakes with lemon juice—within a matter of ten minutes the peppers will dissolve. You can also use a simple paste of Marash and lemon or orange juice to rub onto chicken, lamb, or pork before cooking.
It’s hard to go wrong having a jar of Marash red pepper on your table. As Ana Sortun said, “It will change your life and your recipes for the better.” I’ll leave you with this line from Jane Black, who I met years ago at Camp Bacon when she was writing for the Washington Post, who said of Marash: “Think of it as the Eartha Kitt of chilies . . . sultry and rich with a slow, subtle heat.”