Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Armenian secret ingredient! Ssshhh...
Red pepper paste is one of those secret ingredients that a cook might neglect to mention when sharing the recipe with someone else.
My maternal grandmother, Yeranuhe Nanny, used red pepper paste in many of her homeland recipes - from Sarma Gurgood(Tabbouleh), to Banerov Hatz (Cheese Bread), to potato salad - or whatever recipe she fancied.
She wasn’t sneaky ; she mentioned the use of red pepper paste whenever someone wanted her recipe. What she didn’t tell them was that you had to MAKE it yourself!
Sure, today you can buy the paste in some Middle Eastern stores, but not many of them carry it, so you might still have to make it if you want to capture the true essence of Nanny’s recipes .
As a child I’d watch Nanny toil over the preparation. She’d go to the farmer’s market and buy several bushels of red peppers at the peak of their season, when prices were low.
She’d cut them, remove the seeds, wash them, then hand-grind the peppers. Then she cooked the ground peppers in a large pot until the liquid was evaporated. The next step was to spread the pepper mash onto baking sheets and sun-dry them for 1 to 3 days depending on the heat and humidity.
Nanny sat outside, guarding her trays against flies and other insects, or change in weather. If there was a threat of rain, she’d quickly snatch the trays and haul them upstairs to her kitchen.
The paste was ready when it turned a brownish-red color, and the consistency was more like tomato paste. Nanny would place the paste in small sterilized jars, put a little olive oil on top, tightly cover the jars, and refrigerate the amount that would be used soon.
The rest went into the freezer for year-round use.
Here’s a modern spin on the original red pepper paste recipe.
Red Pepper Paste
6 large red bell peppers
½ tsp. cayenne pepper (add more if you want more heat, but be careful!)
1 tsp. salt
1. Wash the peppers, and remove the seeds, and white membrane.
2. Chop into small pieces.
3. Grind in a food processor, using the metal S-blade. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the peppers.
4. Spread the ground peppers in a large skillet, stir in the salt and cayenne pepper, and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat to a simmer, cook, stirring periodically for about 45 minutes, or until the pepper mixture begins to resemble a thick paste.
6. Spoon the red pepper paste into small, sterilized jars. Pour a little olive oil over the top of the paste. Cover tightly, and refrigerate.
At this point you can freeze the red pepper paste. The trick is to use plastic ice cube trays. Place about a tablespoonful of paste in each ice cube compartment.
Cover with heavy freezer wrap, and place trays in freezer. When ready to use, remove the number of red pepper paste cubes you need and defrost in the refrigerator. Keep the other “cubes” frozen until needed.