Red Hot Chili Peppers Armenian-Style

An Egyptian farmer harvests peppers from his field in a village, near Shubra on the outskirts of Cairo 27 September 2011. (Photo: Reuters - Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

By: Nicolas Abu Rjeili

Published Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The secret of the distinctive taste of Armenian-style hot red pepper paste begins with the secret of selecting the peppers in the first place, reveals Marie Tshabarian. It hinges on the exact combination of broad and thin fresh Aleppo peppers, ranging in heat level from moderate to very hot.

The paste is a hallmark of Armenian homes, virtually every one of which in the Lebanese town of Anjar has its stock of homemade “Bibar Shour,” which, everyone will assure you, is different than the stuff available in the shops.

The special taste is also due to the way it is made. The most common preparation method used these days, says Tshabarian, begins with picking very red, ripe, broad Aleppo peppers. These are washed well and quartered, placed in a metal vat, and covered in water. Then, add 1.5 kilos of salt for every 10 kilos of peppers.

After soaking for a while, the mixture is brought to a boil and left to simmer for around an hour. It is then taken off the fire, put through a sieve to remove the skin and small seeds, and ground using either an old-fashioned hummus grinder or a food processor. The mix is then returned to the fire to boil off excess liquid, while constantly being stirred with a wooden spoon until it is reduced to the consistency of a paste.

Afterwards, it is dried by being spread out and exposed to the sun for several days. Then it is ready to be stored, either in glass jars – though these must be air-tight – or in plastic bags in the refrigerator.

A popular variant of the recipe involves adding four cloves of crushed garlic and two bunches of chopped coriander to the peppers at the start of the process, Tshabarian explains.

Either way, around 1.5 kilos of paste is produced for every 10 kilos of fresh peppers used.

The paste is used as an accompaniment to many dishes, from raw kebbe to grilled meat and kebabs, chicken, some kinds of salads, and many other Levantine dishes. It can also be eaten on its own in a sandwich with fresh green mint leaves.

Devotees maintain that hot peppers have great health benefits. They help digestion, restore suppleness to blood vessels, regulate blood pressure, strengthen the heartbeat, stop bleeding, repair damaged fibers, and reduce painful joint inflammations and rheumatism. The redder the pepper, the greater its vitamin content.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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