WHAT IS IT?
Urfa biber (oor-fah bee-Ber) is a wonderful chile without much heat as the seeds and stems are largely removed. Think of it as a chipotle’s quiet, flavorful, intriguing cousin from Turkey. You find them in dishes with eggs, stews, vegetables, and lots of roasted meats, especially lamb. World chefs roll their spicy fruity smokiness into everything from brownies to soups, salads and ice cream?
A red pepper, it ripens into to a dark maroon on the vine, then it’s sun dried then covered with tarps at night. The process is called ‘sweating.’ It infuses the dried flesh with the remaining moisture in the pepper’s skin and, combined with the sun-drying, brings up the pyrazines in the chile which give it an earthy-smoky flavor with hints of wine tannin. Their slightly higher oil content than most chiles gives them a softer texture. They’re usually salted and ground using the same kinds of granite stone wheels used to grind flour or extract oil. They provide big flavor, color and texture.
Urfa biber, or Isot chiles have notes of smokey chocolate, fruitiness and a touch of sour reminiscent of a mild sumac or wine tannins. There’s a lot of depth, with a very pleasant low medium heat (50,000 Scoville) and a flavor that is some perceive as a bit earthy. Salted and shredded, its texture, in addition to the unique taste, offers a wide range of creative possibilities!
There are two types of Urfa Biber, traditionally made, and factory. They’re similar, but the traditional is
Şanlıurfa (Urfa the Glorious), is a city of about half a million people in Southwestern Turkey which has many names because it is home to so many cultures. With a primarily Arabic, Kurdish and Turkmen population, it is located about eighty kilometers East of the Euphrates River, near the Syrian border. The town was renamed with “the glorious,” a title honoring its war history, in 1984. The chiles grown here live up to that rep too!
Chiles aren’t native to Turkey. They were brought by Spanish and/or Portuguese traders from Latin America.They take on the characteristics of where they are grown, so soil and climate are everything. The climate in Urfa is ideal for chile growing: Extremely hot, dry summers and cool, moist winters. Popular throughout Turkey, Syria and Kurdish Iraq, urfa biber peppers is also popular with chefs all over the world, and has been slowly working its way into North American aromatas. They’re the darker, moister neighbor to nearby Aleppo, which, before Syria’s long civil war, also produced an amazing chile.
- Kebabs with cumin seeds, sesame seeds and/oror onion. Great with paprika
- Lahmajoun, a thin flatbread with spicy tomato sauce and minced lamb flavored with cinnamon, cumin and herbs.
- Menemen – Eggs, tomatoes and peppers in a skillet
- Great with pungent cheeses like Kelle Peyniri
- Köfte kısır – Spicy bulgur salad
FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Sprinkle lightly over fruit or chocolate ice cream;
- Biber brownies give a little kick and make the humdrum slick!
- Sprinkle over eggs Benedict for a little rich pop
- Just in Biber Brussels – Instead of drowning Brussels Sprouts in bacon, open them up with a little ghee, salt and urfa biber.
The Urfa Biber pepper has been cultivated there for hundreds of years, and is one of the well-traded peppers of Turkey, Syria, and Kurdish towns into Iraq.
- Urfa Pepper
- Isot pepper
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