Sunday, 19 June 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #37 – Pepper Flakes

Dee – June’s featured ingredient for Tasting Jerusalem was Middle Eastern Pepper Flakes, and our community were encouraged to try out the different types of dried and flaked peppers that are available in the region:  Aleppo, Urfa, Marash, and Antebi.  Unfortunately this proved difficult due to the problem of dried pepper flakes, as opposed to dried chilli flakes, not being all that easy to find over in England.  The only ones that are available are either the Turkish ‘Pul Biber’, or generically labelled ‘red pepper flakes’, which I believe are also Pul Biber as they look identical.  This put me at a disadvantage when attempting to examine the ingredient in detail, but nevertheless I managed to create something that I feel is at least blog-worthy.

The pepper flakes are the product of red peppers being semi dried with occasionally salt being added, deseeded and crushed.  They differ from crushed chillies as they do not contain seeds or inner flesh, and have an oilier and slightly fruity taste and much more vivid red colour.  I believe that the Pul Biber mentioned above are made from Aleppo Pepper, named after a city in Syria, and produced in Syria and Turkey.

A second hurdle presented itself while I was searching through the Jerusalem recipe book to select something to cook, as the Pepper Flakes, under the name of Pul Biber, only appear in one recipe: the Conchiglie with Yoghurt, Peas and Chilli, which we had already made in May 2015 for Tasting Jerusalem #11 (click here for details). 

We needed to look beyond the Jerusalem recipe book again, but fortunately, I knew exactly where to select the recipe from.

Sabrina Ghayour has written two best-selling recipe books, Persiana and Sirocco, inspired by Persian, Eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisines and uses Pul Biber extensively in her recipes.  Although she does not specifically reference Jerusalem in the commentary accompanying the recipes, a large number of them would not be out of place at all in a restaurant or home in any of the communities within the city.

Vine Baked Feta
I chose to showcase the pepper flakes using one of Sabrina’s best known dishes, which she used to serve to guests at her supper clubs.  It is a simple but very effective preparation of a block of feta which is garnished, wrapped in vine leaves and baked in the oven.  The Pul Biber is used in the garnishing stage, where it is sprinkled onto the cheese before it is wrapped in the vine leaves.  For such a great tasting dish it is far more photogenic in its early stages, so here it is prior to being wrapped in the vine leaves;
Once out of the oven the feta softens and takes on the flavours of the garnishes.  The vine leaves I used to wrap the cheese were preserved in brine, adding more saltiness to the already salty feta, so can be discarded, but in a slight variation to the published recipe, I like to wrap the whole lot in foil before baking it to preserve the vine leaves, which I eat along with the cheese.
The picture above shows the vine baked feta in the context of a whole meal.  Accompanying it were some home-made flatbreads which had a lovely soft chewy texture, ideal for eating with the Feta, and some Semolina Crusted Aubergines with Honey and a Carrot, Tahini and Hazelnut Salad with Mint.  The Aubergines and Salad were also Sabrina’s recipes, although we baked the aubergines rather than deep frying them.
It was a very enjoyable meal, but we only made enough of the feta for one serving each.  There are flatbreads, salad and aubergines left which can feed us for lunch tomorrow.

As often happens with the Tasting Jerusalem project, featured ingredients make surprise comebacks, and I will definitely be keeping a look out for Urfa, Marash and Antebi Pepper as I would be very interested to see how they taste in relation to the Pul Biber, and if I find any I will give them a mention.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)


  1. Thanks for delving into other cookbooks and sharing your ideas and sources. I don't have her books but have heard about them. The vine baked feta is so interesting!

    1. Thanks, both books have some great recipes which fit in well with our community.
      We'll definitely make the vine baked feta again.