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Turkish pepper paste: Magic in a bottle

pepperpasteWhile walking through Shahrzad Market on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs today, I espied this jar of Turkish red pepper paste, and it just seemed like serendipity. I needed a new jar for the season, now that stewing and braising weather has returned. Also, our kitchen is about to emerge from its protracted remodel, and we should (fingers crossed) be able to prepare our first home-cooked meal this weekend.

If you’ve never tried Turkish pepper paste, you should. It is, bar none, my favorite secret ingredient of all time — a coarse blend of sweet-hot peppers that mellow depth to any dish that involves cooked tomatoes or tomato paste. It doesn’t taste of salt or vinegar, but of meaty and summer-ripe pepper pods.

Here’s a recipe for braised Turkish-style chickpeas I published in 2003.

Split peas were easy the first time around. I cooked them until they disintegrated. That’s all split peas are — inevitable mush.

Black turtle beans took a trial run, but now I’ve got a technique: I cook them uncovered until tender with all kinds of seasonings, then crush some against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon to thicken the sauce.

Great Northern white beans were trickier to master. They need an overnight soak and a change of water. After the soak, I bring the beans to a gentle boil and skim off the prodigious output of scum that rises to the surface of the pot. You won’t see such scum in a carwash. But the beans become tender within the hour, ready for soups and salads.

Chickpeas scare me.

I’ve tried, really tried, to cook chickpeas from dried. I’ve soaked and boiled, and boiled and soaked. I’ve salted, I’ve not salted. I’ve left them on the stove for hours, days, weeks, months. And still I end up serving the same punishing bowl of rubber bullets.

Then some friends from Turkey came to town for a visit. When their kids couldn’t face another American, Mexican or Chinese meal, the mother asked if she could make chickpeas. Dried chickpeas that — with the help of a leftover rotisserie chicken carcass and a bit of pepper and onion — she turned into an amazing stew. The chickpeas swelled like balloons in the sauce and developed a creamy texture far superior to any canned pea.

What was her trick? After soaking the chickpeas overnight, she parboiled them for about 10 minutes in a pot of rapidly boiling water. When she drained the chickpeas, they didn’t look very different (still small and firm), but they were fully cooked through. Then she braised them barely covered in a flavorful cooking liquid in a covered pot. Every now and again, she added a bit more chicken broth to the pot to keep the peas fully submerged. She was surprised to find them ready within an hour; Turkish chickpeas, which often are stored longer, can take two hours to cook.

Below is my friend’s recipe. The only unusual ingredient is Turkish hot red pepper paste — a kind of coarse puree of preserved ripe hot peppers. You can leave it out. But your pantry will be happy if you pick up a jar of this wondrous ingredient, which makes a great addition to soups and stews. You can find several brands at Shahrzad market on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. The Tukas brand (labeled “Paprika”) is best.

These chickpeas are best enjoyed as the centerpiece of a near-meatless meal. Serve them with rice and a big dollop of good yogurt.

I usually remember to pick up organic whole milk yogurt to serve with this dish whenever I’m in a gourmet store or farmers market. Because I keep dried chickpeas around all the time now that I know how to cook them.

SIDE DISH: Nohut (Turkish-style chickpeas)
Make 6 servings
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus overnight soaking
Cooking time: 1-2 hours

  • 2 cups dried chickpeas, picked over
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons hot red pepper paste
  • 4 to 6 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 1 to 2 cups cooked chicken (optional)
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

Soak the chickpeas overnight. Drain and rinse well.
Bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil, add chickpeas and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse.
As the chickpeas are parboiling, heat olive oil in the bottom of a 5-quart pot over a medium flame. Add the onion, garlic and red and green bell peppers. Cook until wilted and very limp, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato and hot red pepper pastes and cook an additional minute or two until fragrant. Add the chickpeas and just enough chicken broth to cover. Simmer, covered, until chickpeas have swelled in size and are quite tender. Check the pot every 20 minutes or so, and add chicken broth as needed to keep the peas covered. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If using cooked chicken, add it at the end and heat through.
Per serving (without chicken): 316 calories (percent of calories from fat, 25), 14 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams fiber, 9 grams fat, no cholesterol, 1,514 milligrams sodium.

12 comments Add your comment


September 29th, 2010
4:56 pm

I also really like the ZerGut stuff that’s made in Bulgaria. Makes the best Bolognese!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Phil & Lauren Rubin, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Turkish pepper paste: Magic in a bottle [...]

KissThe Chef

September 29th, 2010
8:54 pm

Wow, thanks for the insight. I, too, have had the “bulletproof” chickpea problem arise. I even tried my pressure cooker, over and over, to no avail. I chalked it up to getting “old” chickpeas from the store, until I got some at a specialty on line store that had just gotten a new shipment. They, too, were crunchy in the end. I’m going to try this recipe and then try making homemade hummus from them, too.


September 30th, 2010
8:43 am

Is there any chance to find fresh chickpeas, or fava beans for that matter, in the Atlanta or vicinity?

John Kessler

September 30th, 2010
12:24 pm

K – I see fresh chickpeas all the time — look in the Buford Highway Farmers Market or the DeKalb Farmers Market or Super H Mart. They’re green, each in its own little jacket.
Heather – Thanks for the tip. Where do you buy it?


September 30th, 2010
12:36 pm

The Cobb International Farmers Market routinely has fava beans as well as fresh chickpeas (both were available yesterday). The Harry’s Whole Foods in Marietta also frequently has fresh chickpeas.

Thanks for cleaning this thread up, John…


September 30th, 2010
1:17 pm

Thanks for cleaning this up Jeff. Who wants to read funny comments when we can read about chickpeas and pepper paste. Another iron fist has been dropped!

John Kessler

September 30th, 2010
2:28 pm

Not an iron fist, a gloved fist. Sorry, Great, I see no reason why two people posting under multiple names with the sole intention of trashing my colleague should derail this thread. This is a blog post about a cooking ingredient.


September 30th, 2010
3:41 pm

I love chickpeas in every way, shape and form. A few years ago I figured out how to cook them from dry and it’s exactly the same way as in the provided recipe which I will definately trying this weekend. Also, thanks bloggers for the sources of fresh chickpeas. JK, got any awsome recipes for these? Thanks! ;o)

David Galloway

October 4th, 2010
4:30 pm

Well, John, I went to the grocery and picked up the pepper sauce you recommended. I am trying the recipe presently and am right at the 2 hour mark. the chickpeas have not softened at all. Guessing that I need to go into overtime on the simmer. Love the story, by the way. I eat every so often at Persopolis (sp?). Have you reviewed it?

John Kessler

October 4th, 2010
4:57 pm

David – Some chickpeas have been so dried out they can be hard to revive. If you have a pressure cooker, finish the stew in that. Or simmer until you have to turn off the stove and let the peas come to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight…Persian roundup in next week’s paper.

David Galloway

October 4th, 2010
6:07 pm

Finished it with more simmering. Tried it vegetarian. Great flavor. Nice subtle heat.
Then put some chicken in just to see how it worked. Excellent dish that is easy, if not fast. I look forward to it on a cold night. Again, I like what the pepper sauce does to the flavor.
Thanks for the tip, John.