Isot, or Urfa pepper….. a wonderful chocolatey chilli which gives great depth

In general I like my food comparatively mild – I like to be able to distinguish gentle flavours, and to drink good wine with my food. But that doesn’t mean I would eschew chilli completely. Used in moderation chilli can give great depth and not a little interest. I use Byadgi chilli and Aleppo pepper, increasingly these days.

And now, thanks again to Yashim, I have found another intriguing chilli to add to my armoury – Isot pepper (the  name comes from the Turkish, ‘ıssı ot’ which means hot [spicy] weed – many thanks to Hasan in his comment below, originally I thought it meant ‘smoked’). I say thanks to my favourite Ottoman detective Yashim, but I should really be grateful to his creator, Jason Goodwin who has published a book of the food he describes his hero making. Included was Yashim’s recipe for hummous, and a key ingredient was isot pepper.

Once I’d established that isot pepper (or isot biber) is more often known as urfa pepper (also logical – the name comes from Urfa*, its origin) it was off to Steenbergs website (to find out why I always go here for my herbs and spices go here) and from there on it was love at first smell.  Fabulous stuff…earthy, smoky, chocolaty, a rich dried fruit taste (dates or raisins) – it’s the sort of culinary equivalent of Ertha Kitt!

*Urfa’s official name is Şanlıurfa – it’s an ancient multi-ethnic (Turks, Kurds, Arabs) city in south-eastern Turkey.

Urfa pepper is the sort of culinary equivalent of Ertha Kitt!

What does Urfa pepper go in especially well?

It would go perfectly in a spooky trumpets-of-the-dead risotto….or almost any stew…or a meat pie maybe…meatballs…a chicken mole…. or a chilli con carne. Urfa pepper works well with the smokiness of roasted aubergines.

But search Saucy Dressings for ‘Urfa pepper’, and you will find that I use it often as a substitute for pepper.

How hot is Urfa pepper?

At 30,000 – 50,000 on the Scoville scale technically urfa pepper gives the same heat as Cayenne or Tabasco. But initially it seems more equivalent to Aleppo pepper (also from south-east Turkey) in terms of spiciness. Beware – the heat builds and is longer lasting – less is more with Urfa pepper.

Why is Urfa pepper so special?

What makes urfa pepper so special is that, not only is it dried, like most chillies, it’s also fermented. The flakes are a deep sultry purple colour because they’re sundried during the day, and then, for about a week, they are also tightly wrapped at night to bind in the plants’s own moisture and oils, a process known as sweating.

Fantastic discovery – thank you Yashim!

Music to cook to

Eartha Kitt, I Want To Be Evil