One of the most mouthwatering of the Middle Eastern meze dishes, acili ezme is a vibrantly red Turkish chopped vegetable dip creased with rivulets of olive oil and jolted with hot pepper paste. It strikes a perfect balance of raw heat and heart-healthy ingredients that will give the spice lover in you just enough color in your cheeks without punishing yourself with the physical pain of swallowing some of those other high-octane chile recipes.
While you can blend a batch with yogurt and dried cayenne for those with sensitive palates (as with this Clifford A. Wright recipe), I prefer the stark, clear flavors of finely chopped bell peppers, onion, tomato, garlic, parsley, and walnuts, stirred into a dense and oily relish that only improves with age if you can keep away from it long enough. My love for this recipe is so large that I will dispense with the glorious, seed-topped pide, or any dipping bread for that matter, and dive into the bowl with an equally large and well-poised spoon. Though effortlessly vegan, it is also an excellent, robust filling for an omelet or dolloped on squares of grilled halloumi cheese.
The tradition of hand chopping each ingredient into precise dice or mince can be time consuming if you are impatient. A food processor will hurry things along, but only if you pulse the vegetables briefly and separately, rather than combining everything and over processing into a purée. This particular recipe's appeal is as much distinctively textural as it is tantalizing. Get out that spoon and taste for yourself.
Acili Ezme - Adapted from the My Kitchen Turkish Food recipe
Serves 4-6 as a starter
1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded, then cut into quarters
1 large green bell pepper, cored and seeded, then cut into quarters
1 medium red onion
3 cloves garlic
2 medium tomatoes, cored
1 handful fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons hot red pepper paste (I used harissa)
2 tablespoons canned tomato paste
1 handful walnuts, coarsely chopped then toasted briefly in a dry skillet over medium heat (about 5 minutes, tossing frequently with a large spoon)
Salt and pepper to taste (optional; harissa is highly seasoned)
Toasted walnut halves
Parsley leaves, flat-leaf or curly variety
Pulse the peppers, onion, tomatoes, garlic, and parsley separately in a food processor, only enough to chop each ingredient into fairly uniform pieces. Empty chopped ingredients into a large serving bowl, including any liquid produced during processing. Stir all chopped ingredients together, then add olive oil, lemon juice, hot red pepper paste, and tomato paste. Stir again to combine well. Taste for optional additions of salt and pepper. Dip is ready when the oil rises and separates from the other ingredients, but is best when allowed time for all flavors to meld. Garnish as desired. Serve with traditional pide, pita, or crackers.
This recipe is for Anh of A Food Lover's Journey, hosting Haalo's Weekend Herb Blogging, which just celebrated its fifth year of sharing the glories of cooking and baking with everything edible from plants.