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, isli ot meaning ‘smoked weed’). 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 pepper is the sort of culinary equivalent of Ertha Kitt!


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.

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.

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!


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


Eartha Kitt, I want to be evil