KATE BURTON of Cardamom & Dill shares a recipe from Turkey

KADIKÖY is a buzzing cosmopolitan community on the Asian side of Istanbul which is nestled on the northern shore of the glorious Sea of Marmara.

Accessed via a short ferry ride from the European side of the rapidly growing sprawling metropolis, you will find yourself only a couple of minutes walk away from one of the most fascinating food markets I know.

Comprised of a maze of narrow pedestrianised streets lined with tiny bars, kebab houses, restaurants, meyhanes, coffee shops and the most amazing food stalls each bursting with colour, heady aromas and flavours, the entire area delivers a heady punch to all my senses.

Quite simply, it is my idea of heaven and when people talk about their love of shopping, this is what rocks my boat. Twice a year – or as often as I can – I come here to stock up on all sorts of exotic ingredients such as garlands of dried aubergines ready to be soaked back to life before stuffing with rice, fragrant dried mint, tangy pomegranate molasses and the rich pepper paste, biber salçasi which I’m going to talk to you about here.

I also pick up bags of dried orange slices with which to decorate sumptuous and moist cakes made with orange blossom honey and lemon thyme; Turkish cumin which the Turks claim to be the best in the world (but then the Turks claim that everything they produce is the best; it’s best to quietly nod in a agreement as they explain why. Don’t even try to argue because you will lose).

There are also bags of isot biber (a Kurdish black chilli revered for its gentle heat, fruity taste and chocolate undertones); pickled za'atar (a very different affair from the spice mix so beloved of the Middle East) and my favourite sweet semi-dried tomatoes which I eat like normal people eat sweets.

I will also invariably pick up several hundred grams of biber salçasi, a red pepper paste that comes in hot (acı) and sweet (tatlı) varieties and is usually stored in vast plastic containers from which the vendor will scoop out as much as you want. It’s a great condiment worthy of exploring further and it’s super easy to make at home. Obviously we are not able able to sun-dry our peppers on our rooftops as Turkish women do but oven roasted peppers are not a bad substitute. Once made, your paste will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for several weeks. I love to mix it with Greek yoghurt to make this piquant dip, a great accompaniment to succulent roast vegetables and gutsy grain-based salads.

You can also add a tablespoon of the stuff to warming stews and soups, as a marinade for meat and fish, on top of pizzas (known as pide in Turkey) or simply spread a thick layer on warm freshly-based sourdough bread and garnish with tangy feta cheese. I have been known to dip chunky hand-cut chips in it too but don’t tell anyone I told you that. Here’s how to make it.

Turkish Biber Salçasi & Yoghurt Dip

For the biber salçası:

3 long red Romano peppers, de-seeded and sliced in half

3 long red chillies, de-seeded and sliced in half (use less if you want a sweeter paste)

Juice of half a lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste

For the dip:

1 tbsp biber salçası

6 tbsp of Turkish or Greek yoghurt

2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil

How I make it

Heat an oven to 200C.

Place the peppers and chillies on a baking tray and roast them for around 20 minutes, turning them once, until their skins are blistered and charred. Remove from the oven, place in a bowl, cover with cling film and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

When cool enough to handle, peel the skins away from the peppers and roughly chop the flesh. Scrape the flesh from the chillies with a knife and place in a blender with the peppers. Blend to a smooth paste, add the lemon juice and season to your taste.

To make the dip, simply combine the biber salçası, yoghurt and oil and, if you’re feeling fancy which I often am, serve with a cheeky scattering of chopped pistachios.

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