It’s safe to say that traditional Holiday cooking calls for generous amounts of spices. Why not extend the range of your spice cupboard to your liquor cabinet as well? After all, the Holidays present endless occasions and excuses for mixing a cocktail: decorating the tree, hosting a little soirée, during the big family party, or even relaxing on a day off after playing in the snow.
It is no surprise that the Middle East’s most popular crushed pepper flake is from the city of Aleppo, which was a hub of the Silk Road for centuries. This ancient market for spice production and trade has long been a natural place for culinary innovation. Numerous spice blends and dishes, like Syrian kebabs, originated there. And it was through spice trading centers like Aleppo that the chile pepper was introduced to the Middle East.
Halaby Pepper, Turkish Pepper, Aleppo Pepper: Many Names, One Distinct Technique
Sometimes called halaby pepper or Turkish pepper, the Aleppo pepper’s crushed red flakes are used to adorn kebabs, shawarmas, hummus, fattoush, and a multitude of other popular Middle Eastern dishes.
The city of Aleppo provided the ideal context for this creation: already flavored with the mineral grit of the semi-arid north Syrian Plateau, the chile was bred to grow red, slender and sweet. The area’s climate is also excellent for sun drying, and with salt and oil, it is there that the distinct technique for producing Aleppo pepper flakes was refined and brought up to the high standards of Syrian cuisine.
Ground slightly larger than typical crushed red pepper flakes, Aleppo pepper takes on a warm, melting texture. The taste is summer sweet and savory, with notes of raisin, pomegranate, and even sun-dried tomatoes. The spice isn’t especially hot, and can be used almost anywhere.
The Aleppo Pepper’s Complex Flavor and History
The Aleppo pepper’s compact yet versatile flavor can be attributed to the innovative chefs, enthusiastic horticulturists, and keen spice merchants that shaped its long, proud history. It is also known as another casualty of the ongoing conflict in Syria. Épices de Cru lost contact with our spice merchant in Syria for over four years – his family now lives in Istanbul and trades at the spice market there, but no longer exports Aleppo pepper.
Finding alternatives can be tricky, although Maras pepper and Korean pepper make worthy substitutes. True Syrian pepper is simply no longer available, but its flavors still live on in our kitchens: we recommend Turkish Aleppo pepper, which is cultivated and processed in a similar fashion just across the border, near Gaziantep, on the same sunny plateau.
Like the chefs, gardeners, and merchants who brought this delicacy to life, we keep finding new uses for Aleppo pepper flakes in sweet and savory dishes, from Ottoman classics like Menemen to reinvented comfort foods like Shepherd’s Pie. Lovingly perfected for centuries, it surpasses other crushed red pepper flakes as a go-to flavor base that adds complexity to any recipe.
The employees at our headquarters, nicknamed “2222,” work with our teas and spices every day. It is they who, over time, have made this company what it is. We invite you to join, each month, a conversation with each one of them.
Noëlline is an energetic and curious woman who always knows how to make us laugh. She’s been in charge of shipping and our production workshop for over three years: if you place an order with us, it’s thanks to her care that the box arrives at your door in one piece. She’s also a grandmother with a big heart who loves spending time with her family and spoiling her grandkids.
Where are you from?
I was born in Tourelle, in Gaspésie, not far from St-Anne-des-Monts. My parents had a general store, nearly everyone in town would stop by to buy something, chat, or play Pichenottes. When I was seven, we moved to Montreal and I’ve lived here ever since.
Can you describe an interesting job you had before working at Épices de Cru?
I worked as an assistant manager at a shoe factory for 12 years. It was physical labor, hard on the hands, but I liked it. Later, I worked at Zellers, while I was waiting to find something else. In the end, I worked there for 24 years! I mostly worked evenings and weekends, which allowed me to spend more time with my kids. I was the hostess of “Club Z,” cashier, assistant supervisor, which meant I always ended up doing customer service too.
What is your favorite job here?
I like it all. I like working in shipping, preparing the orders, which is less stressful at certain levels. Over time, I’ve gotten to know plenty of customers, even though in most cases, I don’t speak with them directly. I like busy days, when it just rolls along and the orders keep coming!
Do you have a favorite spice?
I use a lot of Vegetable Spices. It’s a good base for everything: soups, couscous… I also like Ethiopian Berbere, I put it in my last meatloaf and It was really good! I make a lot of soup- with veggies or noodles- and I like to spiff them up with the Quebec Herb Blend. I might add it to my next coq en pate, or at least some vegetable spice.
What about tea?
I don’t know a lot about tea, but I love my cup during the break. For green teas, my favorites are Wong Zhong Wongand Moroccan Mint. I also like spiced teas lie 8 Spice Chai.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned since you started working here?
When I started, I was well acquainted with herbs like oregano and basil; I’d used them in my cooking for a long time. But there were so many spices I knew nothing about. I wasn’t so used to the spices that are used in Indian cooking, for example. I learned a lot at our staff lunches, like (among others), Varsha’s paneer, a dish I really love. I’m not difficult, so I like to taste all kinds of different things. Of course, when Philippe cooks for us, it’s always good.
No matter the season, there’s almost always a salad on our table!
Green leaf or lettuce salads are excellent accompaniments, and varying ingredients (think arugula, cress or corn lettuce) and dressing or vinaigrette are sources of inspirational and endless possibilities. For heartier salad-meals, add vegetables or hard-boiled eggs, or even left over fish or meat. Be creative and don’t forget the garnishes; home-made croutons, roasted nuts or finely chopped fresh herbs can make a world of difference.
These are some of our best salad recipes that we hope will inspire you.
The Épices de Cru Annual Staff BBQ was a hit— again! Of course you’d imagine a spice company potluck would have some pretty good food. But how did we manage to have such a good time, again? We’re still trying to sort it out all out…
Advice abounds. Rules, tips and tricks for how to put on a good summer party include: keeping good ratios of different dishes, providing enough alcohol but not too much, waiting to turn on the grill, preparing a careful guest list, and generally keeping things under control.
The Spice Trekkers took advantage of their visit to Ethiopia to celebrate Ethné’s birthday. Ethiopian spices proved ideal for the lamb méchoui they concocted for this delicious half Quebecois, half Ethiopian birthday banquet!