Being a child of the Eastern European Terrain I got excited beyond limits when first introduced to a variety of vegetables and variety of a given single vegetable in Turkey. Last year in Sapanca a mind-boggling range of species and assorted operations that they could be subjected to was revealed to me. Late afternoon Zeliha Hanim would come back after a day of shopping with dozens of bags of fresh produce and we would be sorting them out, placing in the dedicated storage spots or processing them immediately. August was about the pepper work.
Small long green peppers would get halved lengthwise, cleared from the seeds and finely chopped for further use in cooking. They would grace a plate of green salad or maybe a pan of menemen, Turkish scrambled eggs.
Bell-shaped green peppers would be used for dolma, a generic name for a stuffed dish in Turkey. These potbellied chaps are stuffed with rice and closed with a piece of tomato: slight bitterness of the pepper and sweetness of the rice seasoned with a dash of sugar and cinnamon produce an interesting combination of flavors.
Long thin red peppers would get threaded and hung outside to dry; to be flaked and used as a seasoning afterwards. Once Zeliha Hanım was threading them with a gigantic needle and I was holding the other side of the thread. I messed up with it trying to push the peppers closer to the end of the thread. Zeliha Hanım’s phone rang and she picked up: I used to chance to sneak in and start threading the peppers myself. I noticed, though, that as I was threading and she was talking on phone she still was passing me peppers to thread. As she was done with the phone call she told me with her signature calmness, ‘Alter the hot and the sweet ones’. I got astound by the whole new world belaying in front of me – the two piles of identically looking peppers are effectively the two drastically different species – some are hot and some are sweet! And I had no clue!
Eventually the deep red fat peppers would get roasted. And as they cool down we would peel them.One day I peeled about a hundred roasted red peppers. Made me feel like I was a doing a proper kitchen apprenticeship – you know, those painstakingly boring tasks that have little to do with cooking (or what novices think that cooking is) but build discipline and understanding of the real action at the kitchen.
Back to the pepper-work, though. The key success factor here is the right roasting time (so the peppers do not get dry) plus letting the peppers to cool down completely so their skin would wrinkle and become really easy to separate from the meat.
So you line up the peppers on the tray, let them roast and then sit down and sip your Turkish tea until they get cooled. If your kitchen is not a production line with trays of roasted peppers and many other tasks awaiting your attention you could fasten the process by placing the roasted peppers into a plastic bag, closing it for a while and then enjoying the easy peeling.
What makes the experience little nasty is the seeds: not with every pepper you would be able to remove the stem with all the seeds attached in a graceful mess-free way so you would end up doing lots of abrupt shaking off hand movements trying. And I was told that you are not allowed to cheat and use running water to wash the seeds away as you are washing off delicious juices from the roasted red peppers then.
The results of these labors would be cut into long stripes, finely chopped, put into the jars, pasteurized and capped. And opened later to become a wonderful meze (starter): the roasted beauties would be seasoned with olive oil, boiled grape juice (pekmez), pomegranate molasses, crashed garlic, and crashed walnut and served as an appetizer. As for me, I would not need a main course after but would not leave without demanding a second serving of those.
Roasted Red Pepper Salad
Adapted from Zeliha Irez of Zeliş Çiftliği
Rich flavor of red peppers comes at its best when roasted and seasoned with thick sauce of pomegranate and grape molasses
Prep Time: 10 Min
Cook Time: 30 Min
- 4 large red peppers
- 3 large halves walnuts crashed
- 1 clove garlic crashed
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp pomegranate molasses (nar ekşisi)
- 1 tsp grape molasses (pekmez)
- 1⁄2 tsp apple vinegar
- pinch salt
- Preheat the oven to 200C/390 F.
- Prepare peppers: Wash the peppers and lay them out on a baking tray next to each other. Roast for about 30 minutes turning once so the skin burns on both side. Place the peppers in a plastic bag, seal and keep for 2-3 minutes. Right after take them out of the bag (watch out, still very hot!): they are ready for peeling as the skin will be very easy to remove now. Remove the skin, halve each pepper length-wise and remove the seeds and stem. Chop peppers into 3-5 mm wide stripes. Set aside.
- Prepare sauce: in a small bowl mix crashed walnuts and garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pomegranate and grape molasses, apple vinegar and salt. Season the peppers and serve.
- Unseasoned roasted peppers can be refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for 1-2 months.