I found some at a spice market and was so intrigued I could not wait to give the bag a try. What made me curious was the relatively copious amount of moisture that was evident on the bag. I’d never seen “dried” peppers with this amount. Boy am I glad that I let my curiosity get the best of me and lead me to check out these peppers.
Marash peppers, grown in Turkey, are sun-dried, stemmed, seeded, and ground. This chili is naturally moist with essential oils, a sure sign its not past its prime. They also have the aroma of dried fruits with musty and earthy flavors tacked on. This chili commonly finds a place in meat preparations such as chicken, lamb, or goat, and is commonly found in Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. This post from Culinary Anthropologist offers some great details. She first discovered the pepper while working at Chez Panisse in nearby Berkeley, California, where they wanted the taste the pepper offered, minus the heat so as not to overwhelm their customers.
They are very similar to Aleppo pepers, but lack the the slightly acidic after taste that accompanies Aleppos. Curious? Neil Sapper offers a great opinion read on holding back on pepper as a seasoning, but he made the exception when it came to Marash. Note, it also goes by the name of Maraş, so if you find a pepper with that name instead – Eureka!
The Aleppo peppers (aka Halaby pepper) favored in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. The pepper is named after Aleppo, a city along the Silk Road in northern Syria, with Syria and Turkey as home to this flavor enhancer.
For the longest time, Syrian and Turkish cooks kept this pepper as their secret ingredient. Indeed, it was not until well near the end of the 20th century, with one source (Los Angeles magazine) attributed its rise in use by the broader U.S. populace to the 1994 publication of The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean by Paula Wolfert (source: wikipedia, aleppo pepper). That’s less than 20 years, people. That is too long to keep a secret about this lovely ingredient. I want to know what else they’ve been holding back on.
Because I am not too adept at describing flavors, I again defer to wikipedia for the following description:
The Aleppo pepper has a moderate heat, with some fruitiness and mild, cumin-like undertones. Its flavor is similar to the ancho chile, but oilier and slightly salty, as salt is often used in the drying process. It is fairly mild, with its heat building slowly, with a fruity raisin-like flavor. It has also been described as having the flavor of “sweetness, roundness and perfume of the best kind of sundried tomatoes, but with a substantial kick behind it.”
If that is not enough to have you thinking of the possibilities, I don’t know what is. The description is reinforced by Poopa Dweck, author of the wonderful Aromas of Aleppo, The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews. She adds that this pepper is prized by cooks in this region as it adds a heat that does not overpower the other flavors in the food which tend to be soft and sour. She offers the following substitutes if you are in a pinch: 3 parts paprika to one part cayenne, or using ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper for every teaspoon of aleppo peppers.
If you are still struggling, the most common use is in the form of crushed flakes, which are typically slightly milder and more oily than conventional crushed red pepper. Unlike crushed red pepper, the flakes contain no seeds, contributing to the mildness. Crushed Aleppo pepper can be used as a substitute for crushed red pepper or paprika.
Life has been crazy lately, I’ve not had the time to cook as I would like, but I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. My goal is to try out new ingredients and explore new cuisines, and I’ve definitely been inspired by my travels. So with the possibilities opened with marash and Aleppo peppers, I see some serious Middle Eastern cooking in my future. For anyone that has cooked with these peppers, what are some tried and true recipes?