People in Boston -- home of the Kennedys, Parker House rolls, and some very smart folks at the World's Greatest University -- associate the word Aleppo not with northern Syria or caravanserais, but with large men in tiny cars and red fez hats, doing crazy-eights in the middle of the street.
Boston is home to the Aleppo Shriners, a fraternal order founded in 1882, part of a national organization that supports Shriners Hospitals for Children and specialized burn centers around the country.
Like Shriners everywhere, they are parade entertainers par excellence.
Yes, they can drive, but I wonder... do they cook?
And do they use Aleppo pepper?
After several Pantry readers pointed out the gap in my spice rack, I tried Aleppo pepper, and I fell in love.
Native to Northern Syria and Turkey, Aleppo (also known as halaby) peppers are sun-dried, seeded and crushed into small flakes. The pepper is a deep red, almost eggplant, color with a high oil content; the flavor is mildly spicy and fruity, with a hint of smokiness. You can substitute red pepper flakes plus a bit of cumin to approximate the flavor, or use ground ancho chile plus a pinch of cayenne or sweet paprika plus a bit of cayenne.
Aleppo pepper will add richness to many dishes, from butternut gratin to flatbreads with spiced chicken, lentil soup to lamb kibbeh, bulgur pilaf to collard greens. Mix it into egg salad, or sprinkle it on pizza.
Now that I've got it, what else can I do with Aleppo pepper? What do you make with it?
Muhammara (walnut and pomegranate paste)
This walnut and pomegranate paste is a stunning deep-red color, and the flavor is rich and mildly hot. Use it as a dip or spread, with bread or grilled fish or chicken. Recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, by the incomparable Claudia Roden. Serves 6-8.
1-1/4 cups shelled walnuts
1-1/2 to 2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 slice whole wheat bread, crust removed, lightly toasted
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp Aleppo pepper (or a pinch of mild chile pepper)
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp sugar
Kosher salt, to taste
Blend all ingredients to a rough (not too smooth) paste in the food processor.
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