One of my favorite indulgences, especially after a busy holiday season of cooking and entertaining, is a spice rack makeover.
New spices! Fresh spices! Out with the old, in with ... well, with whatever I want.
While culling through the pantry last week, making a list of things to replenish (black peppercorns, sea salt, cumin seed, smoked paprika), and tossing out a few herbs and spices past their prime, I unearthed a container of urfa pepper buried at the back of the spice rack.
Gosh. How did that happen? I love urfa pepper, yet I'd forgotten all about it because it wasn't at the front of the shelf.
(Does that happen to you? Of course it does.)
Urfa pepper -- also known as urfa biber -- is a limited-production smoky hot pepper from Turkey. Cultivated in the town of Şanliurfa, near the Syrian border, the peppers are picked, dried in the sun by day, then wrapped and sweated at night for more than a week. This sweating process gives the pepper a rich, earthy taste and aroma, and a flavor that hints of raisins. Then the whole pepper, including the seeds, is ground.
The purplish color, texture and flavor of the final dried and crushed pepper depends on the ripeness of the pepper when picked, the length of drying time, the amount of grinding and the quantity of oil and salt added to the finished product. (The best pepper has little or no oil and salt added.)
Urfa peppers have a moderate heat level that develops slowly. If you don't have urfa pepper, you can substitute Aleppo pepper or smoked sweet or hot paprika.
The moral of this story is: check the back of the pantry shelves. You'll probably find some good stuff hiding there.
Squash, sweet potato and carrot soup
Sometimes, when you toss a few orange things into a red soup pot, magic happens. This is one of those times. Serves 4.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 orange-flesh yam or sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 tsp ground cumin
4 cups chicken broth or water
Juice of half a lemon
1 Tbsp honey or agave nectar
1 large pinch of urfa pepper
1 large pinch of kosher salt
Fresh black pepper, to taste
Place oil, squash, yam or sweet potato, carrot and onion into a 4-quart or larger soup pot. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the cumin, and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth or water. Bring to a boil; then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes or until the squash and sweet potato are soft when pierced with a knife.
Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a blender or food processor. Puree the vegetables, then return them to the liquid in the pot. Add lemon juice, honey, urfa pepper and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Taste, and balance seasoning as needed with more lemon, more honey, more salt and black pepper. Serve hot.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Muhammara (pomegranate and walnut paste)
Roasted vegetables with yogurt and fresh tomato sauce
Shrimp with romesco sauce
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