So, what exactly does one do with a load of Turkish pepper?
I’ve been wondering about that for past few weeks, ever since my brother, who’d been travelling in the Turkish neck of the woods, brought me a collection of randomly chosen local spices, most of which turned out to be pepper of some kind. There were small, maroon-coloured chilli flakes called isot biber or urfa biber (and not one, but two packets thereof), bright red chilli flakes labelled pul kirmizi biber, and karabiber, which I took to be ground white pepper but which I now suspect is more black peppery.
Whatever the nature of the individual peppers, though, the key point was that I now had rather a large quantity of them languishing in my cupboards. They might have continued that way for some time if not for the spotting, last week, of a potato recipe in the Guardian from Yotam Ottolenghi which called for Turkish chilli flakes or pul biber. Described in the piece as a classic Lebanese and Syrian take on roast potatoes, the recipe for batata harra had my name, and (I hoped) my pepper, written all over it.
Middle Eastern Roasted Potatoes
The recipe below is an adaptation of Yotam Ottolenghi’s aforementioned formula for batata harra. The original calls for sweet red peppers to be roasted with the potatoes, whilst I have used cherry tomatoes instead – mostly because they were growing right outside my kitchen window. Also, while the recipe features the classic Lebanese trinity of lemon, garlic and olive oil, I’ve included a few other Middle Eastern regulars, in the shape of mint and sesame seeds, along with a helping of spring onions.
The other thing to say, of course, is that you don’t have to use Turkish chilli flakes in this recipe – you can always use other chilli flakes which will bring their own particular heat and flavour. The pul kirmizi biber which I used was like a hot paprika, but Syrian aleppo pepper, for example, would be fruitier and milder. Remember also that chilli flakes will vary in strength, as do people’s tolerances for heat, so adjust according to your taste and the chilli you’re using.
- 1kg waxy salad potatoes, such as Charlotte, peeled or not as you prefer and chopped into approx. 2cm chunks
- 2 tblsp olive oil
- 2 tblsp sunflower or peanut oil
- coarse salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 500g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed
- approx. 30g fresh coriander (leaves and stems), finely minced
- 1 tsp Turkish or other chilli flakes, or to taste
- 1 tsp sumac or more to taste (optional)
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tblsp lemon juice or to taste
- 4-6 spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 tblsp sesame seeds, toasted (optional)
- 1 tbslp chopped mint
You’ll also need:
- A large-ish roasting tray, big enough to accommodate the potato chunks in a single layer, or use 2 smaller trays; plus tin foil for lining
- Preheat your oven to 220C and line your roasting tray with foil
- Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil (approx 1.5l water and 2 tsp salt). Add the potato chunks, return to the boil and boil gently for about 3 minutes. Drain well and then either let them sit, covered by a tea-towel, for about 5 minutes or place the saucepan over a low heat and stir the potatoes gently for a minute or so while they dry out.
- Toss the potatoes with the olive and sunflower oils and about 2 tsp coarse salt plus some black pepper.
- Spread the potatoes onto your roasting tray and place in the oven for about 10 minutes, then stir in the tomatoes and garlic, along with half of the coriander, the chilli flakes and the sumac (if using). Roast for another 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are browned and tender.
- Tip the contents of the roasting tray into a large bowl and add the lemon zest, lemon juice, spring onions, toasted sesame seeds (if using) and more salt and pepper if need be. Serve warm or at room temperature on its own or perhaps with some fried fish, such as sea bass, and stir in the remaining coriander, as well as the mint just before serving.
- Of course you can give Ottolenghi’s original version a whirl, using red peppers in place of the cherry tomatoes.
- Serves around 4 people as a warm salad or side dish.