Spice up your life
January 2, 2010
Any visit to Istanbul must, of course, include a visit to the city’s spectacular Spice Market. From fresh, crunchy pistachios to juicy, sweet dates to pungent, yellow Iranian saffron, everything the dedicated foodie could desire is available in plentiful amounts.
But, as is often the case with these kinds of places, it has become something of a victim of its own success. Packed from dusk till dawn, often with not an Istanbul native in sight (apart from the shopkeepers), it can be somewhat overwhelming and come across a little like a tourist theme park. However, walk one street to the west of the Spice Market, and you find yourself on Tahmis Sokak, the street were the Turks do their shopping.
And this is where the shops are that sell my new favourite condiment, pul biber. ‘Biber’ is Turkish for red pepper, and pul biber is the dried flaked variety. I first tasted it when I did a cooking course here in Istanbul, at the Cooking Alaturka cookery school. We were shown how to use it in a delicously simple tomato and onion salad, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It has a much more subtle flavour than straightforward chilli pepper – a bit smoky and a bit sweet. It’s made in paste form too, and the helpful man at the shop where I first bought it suggested I mix it with tomato puree.
I’ve used it to add flavour to stews, soups and pasta sauces, but my favourite way is in what I’ve come to call a Turkish omelette. Add a spoonful of the pul biber-tomato paste mix to a couple of eggs, beat well and then cook the omelette. Sprinkle over a good handful of fresh parsley, and Bob’s your Turkish uncle!
This morning, I tried it out on Suleyman, alongside the more traditional Turkish breakfast of olives, cheese, yoghurt, baby cucumbers and – the only concession to an English breakfast – toast. And he thoroughly approved!