May 22, 2017
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Urfa Biber, Say It With Us
Urfa Brownies_1677

This Turkish chile will add a touch of mild, smoky spice to everything from poached eggs to brownies.

Urfa biber is one of those ingredients that you don’t know you’re missing in your life until you try it. The deep purple spice has a smoky, fruity, raisin-like quality that you might recognize from Turkish lamb and eggplant dishes. Its mild flavor is reminiscent of the Mexican ancho chile but earthier, with some hints of chocolate and coffee.      

Technically a red pepper, Urfa biber is ripened to a dark maroon on the plant before harvesting. The peppers are dried in the sun, but not completely so. More specifically, they go through a two-part process in which they are sun-dried during the day and wrapped tightly at night. The nocturnal wrapping process is known as sweating and helps the pepper to retain its natural oils and moisture. This gives the flakes of dried pepper a slightly chewy texture, so they’re often packed with salt to prevent caking.

I’ve only encountered Urfa in its dried, ground, flaky form (more specifically, at spice shops like Kalustyan’s in New York City, the Spice House in Chicago, or online), never in its natural whole chile pepper state. But I recently happened upon a farmer at my local farmers’ market selling Urfa pepper plants, and now an Urfa pepper plant is growing in my tiny urban garden. My fingers are crossed for a bumper crop of Turkish Urfa peppers in Philly so that I can try my hand at the drying process.

What will I do with all this Urfa, you might wonder? What doesn’t benefit from a dash of Urfa? Its tannic, earthy profile is a nice counterbalance to sweet desserts, particularly of the chocolate variety. In Turkey, Urfa is traditionally used in meat dishes like kebabs and other savory preparations. You can use it as a rub for just about any type of meat (from chicken to venison to duck), long-simmered stews, or roasted vegetables from winter roots to summer bell peppers and eggplant, or to liven up a red pasta sauce. Or simply sprinkle Urfa over any dish to which you seek to add a pleasant, subtle smoky element.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 poached eggs
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon urfa biber
  • Herb Sauce
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 small jalapenos, seeded and minced
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup basil
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • squeeze of lemon

Urfa pairs exceptionally well with eggs. Çılbır is a Turkish dish of poached eggs with yogurt, commonly served with melted butter infused with Aleppo pepper (or paprika if you don’t have any Aleppo pepper). However, I swapped out the paprika for Urfa, which put this already decadent and oh-so-flavorful dish over the top.

  1. Place yogurt in a bowl. Mix in the garlic and dill. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  2. Divide the yogurt between two plates. Top the yogurt with two poached eggs per plate.
  3. Place the Urfa biber in a small heat-proof bowl. Heat the butter in a small skillet. When the butter is melted and nutty brown, pour over the chile flakes. Stir to combine. Drizzle the hot oil over the poached eggs. Serve with herb sauce and crusty bread or pita.

For the Herb Sauce

  1. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shake the pan to prevent the seeds from burning. Cook 2 to 3 minutes until the seeds darken in color and give off a nutty aroma (watch carefully to ensure they don’t burn, otherwise they’ll be bitter). Grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
  2. Toss the scallions with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a cast-iron skillet. When hot, add the scallions and cook until charred in spots, turning from time to time. Chop the scallions.
  3. Add the ground cumin and coriander to a food processor (or mortar and pestle) along with the scallions and herbs. Slowly add the olive oil and pulse until smooth, but still a little chunky. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon to taste.
Urfa Biber Brownies

Urfa Biber Brownies

8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tablespoon urfa biber (more or less to taste)
  • 3 ½ ounces dark chocolate, chopped into chunks

Urfa’s earthy, tannic, chocolate, coffee-like undertones make for an ideal addition to rich desserts and help to temper their sweetness. I am particularly fond of the combination of dark chocolate and chile. In addition to brownies, Urfa would elevate chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake, and even dark fruit or berry tarts to new heights.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch baking pan with parchment. Lightly grease with butter.
  2. Combine the unsweetened chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk until the chocolate is melted. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Add the sugar to the bowl with the melted chocolate. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour, salt, vanilla, and Urfa biber. Stir to incorporate. Fold in the dark chocolate chunks, if using.
  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish. Bake until just set, about 20 minutes.

Linda Schneider

Linda Schneider is a home cook who is obsessed with good food and all things local. Follow her adventures at Wild Greens and Sardines.

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