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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Vegan Eggplant Dip With Urfa Pepper

In my quest to discover and fall in love with a new spice each week, I was immediately drawn to the Urfa Pepper from Bazaar Spices with its purplish shine and sweet smokey aroma.  On first whiff, it smelled tangy and sharp, similar to cayenne pepper mixed with lemon. The flavor is surprising - smokey with an intense heat that creeps up, but is not unbearably hot. It has a subtle sweet flavor that explains why it is often described as tasting like raisins.

Urfa pepper comes from Turkey. It is processed by drying in the sun and then letting the pepper "sweat" throughout the night to seal in the moisture. What you end up with is a delightfully soft coarsely ground pepper that feels oily to the touch. (It's kind of amazing to roll between your fingers.)

The smokiness of the pepper lends itself to meat, but I searched around a bit and found that it is often paired with eggplant, which is one of my absolute favorite ingredients to work with. I put it to the test and spiced up a favorite recipe. The red onion adds a nice crunch, while the lemon juice enhances the pepper's tangy flavor.

Spicy Vegan Eggplant Dip

1 large purple eggplant
1/2 sweet red onion
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon Urfa pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
Parsley, for garnish

To roast the eggplant, I cut it in half, sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted it in the oven on 400 for 30 minutes, face down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. (For a smokier flavor, you can grill the eggplant or char directly on a stovetop). Let cool and peel. 

Meanwhile, I used a mortar and pestle to mash together the garlic clove, a pinch of salt and a dash of olive oil into a fragrant paste.

Using a food processor, blend together the eggplant, lemon juice, garlic paste, and red onion. Slowly add in about 2 tablespoons olive oil for a smoother texture. 

I add fresh parley on top to cut the spice and smokiness. The dip is delicious with crackers, pita, or fresh vegetables.

*Play with the spice level. Start with a little of the pepper and taste the dip. You can always add more, but too much can overwhelm the dip!  Another way to cool off the dip and add creaminess, you can mix in 2 tablespoons of Greek Yogurt. Of course, the dip will no longer be vegan. :o)

I'm not quite done with this delicious pepper. The sweet heat is just asking to be paired with chocolate, so I'm thinking chocolate Urfa brownies are in my future. If you have a favorite Urfa pepper recipe, please share! 

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