Salça (Paste-Making)

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The array of dishes that can be called ‘Turkish cuisine’ evolved in a time-rich, cash-poor society. Because of harsh climate variations in the eastern half of the country, people had to find ways to make ingredients last across four seasons. So they perfected techniques for drying, pickling, brining, preserving and pulverising products that were plentiful in late summer.

The pulverising process is called salça in Turkish—a word that entered culinary dictionaries only in the nineteenth century, even though it’s derived from the Latin salsa. Before that, the word palude was used for pastes, sauces and reductions that were thickened with starch. For me, salça means a concentration of one ingredient—a paste, perhaps with salt as a preservative.

The most popular salça is made with peppers. On the farm of my traditionalist friend Musa, they pick the peppers in the morning, remove the stalks and seeds, and toss them into a purpose-built pepper mincer. Then they simmer the mince in huge pots over a wood fire until most of the water has evaporated.

To make your own pepper salça (pepper paste) at home:

Remove the stalks and seeds from the capsicums (peppers) and boil the chopped pieces in a little water for 1 hour (with the lid on the pot). Strain the capsicum and purée the pieces in a blender, then simmer the purée for 1 hour with the lid off.

For every kilogram of capsicum, stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour the paste into clean glass jars while still warm, top with olive oil and seal.