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.
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 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?
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.
Trouble is, we didn’t do any of that. Continue reading →
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!
Green tea is the most widely consumed tea in Asia, and is getting more and more popular in the West. It’s certainly the most talked about- particularly for its antioxidant properties, which have driven its global growth. Its health benefits are often reputed to be the secret to Chinese and Japanese longevity. But green tea is desirable for much more than its medicinal qualities, and offers a cornucopia of flavors that bear witness to the generations who’ve loved and cultivated this cherished beverage.
We tend to associate green tea with bitterness, which is why many people don’t like it. But it doesn’t have to be this way! More often than not, infusion time and temperature are the culprits when a cup of tea comes out bitter. Delicate, sensitive tea leaves require a little more care. The secret to making a delicate, jade-green infusion is having water at the right temperature (usually between 80-85°C), and the right infusion time (usually 2-3 minutes). Once you get this crucial consideration down, you’re ready to enjoy all the various subtleties and aromas of the tea.
Green tea leaves are only partially oxidized, which is why they have such a vegetal, floral flavor. The first harvest is usually in spring, in April or even March, depending on the weather. After being harvested, the tea leaves are withered (or dried) which allows them to oxidize. Then they are finally fired, or cooked, which ceases the oxidization of the leaves.
There are basically two kinds of firing in green tea: the Chinese school of thought and the Japanese. These two rough categories present markedly different flavors. Each school of thought is surprisingly distinct from the other. Continue reading →
Diving into Ranch- perhaps the greatest American sauce- took more than exploring American food and culture. The best of American cuisine often derives from the direct, almost assertive simplicity that makes the country great: baked beans, southern BBQ, good old-fashioned apple pie. But what makes simple food like Ranch good is not just the ingredients, or the balance of flavors, or the quantity of spices. It’s the people you’re making it for, the reasons you’re doing it in the first place. So for me, making a good Ranch took the whole family.
I don’t need to tell you about Ranch. Right now about 20% of the American population is covered in a creamy, peppery mayonnaise and buttermilk sauce that epitomizes the English word “tangy.” It goes on salads, sandwiches, chips, vegetables, you name it. It’s a dressing that used to be homemade and should be again.
Spices are our main concern at Épices de Cru, but the truth is spices often present their flavour best in combination with the many sauces, pastes, and other ingredients developed by the world’s great cuisines. So we present our series on pantries of the world- important ingredients to have on hand before delving into any regional cuisine.
Indian cuisine provides an endless source of inspiration for us, and is without a doubt a reigning champion in the use of spices. Ingredients and dishes vary wildly from region to region, according to the varying environments, cultures, and religious beliefs of each inhabitant. In the North, dairy and bread (naan, chapatti, roti) are the foundations of many meals. Hot spices, like pepper and cinnamon, are more common, notably in garam masala. In the South, fresher ingredients, like coconut, lime juice, and curry leaves, are more widely used. In the middle of the country, an impressive assortment of dishes reveals diverse influences, and rice often plays a primary role.
It is, therefore, quite difficult to summarize such a rich and complex cuisine in just a few words: it would take more than just one little article to capture all those nuances! Simply put, however, a balanced Indian meal should have several vegetable dishes, raw or cooked, sometimes a meat, poultry or fish dish, in addition to a dairy (paneer or yogurt), and pulses, all accompanied by a bread or rice and plenty of chutneys. In addition to spices, there are a few ingredients, less well-known in the West, that are necessary to have on hand to make Indian food at home. Here are a few of our favourites.
Atta flour is a whole wheat flour made from wheat rich in fiber and protein. It’s most commonly used in bread dishes like chapati or paratha. Chickpea flour, also called besan or gram, is used to thicken certain curries and to make crunchy pakoras, bajhis, or papadums. It is now gaining increasing popularity in North America as a nutritious and flavour-packed gluten-free solution.
Clarified butter is butter from which the milk solids have been removed- it therefore contains no protein or lactose. Ghee can tolerate very high cooking temperatures without smoking or burning. It also keeps longer than butter. In certain parts of India, notably the North, it’s the most common cooking fat. It can also be brushed onto breads and is used for some desserts. It’s easy to find in many ethnic markets, but can also be easily made at home. Continue reading →