another bit on the side: fennel and tomato stew with aleppo pepper

fennel and tomato stew
Sometimes it is nice to be ahead of the game even if you are completely oblivious to itReading a recent article in Observer Food Monthly on some of their favourite things - 50 Best Foodie Picks - at number 31 was Turkish Chilli Pepper (aka Aleppo Pepper or pul biber in Turkish). Turns out I've been fashionable for years without realising my foodie street cred.

OFM described the pepper as
Salted, dried, rubbed with olive oil and roasted – once you've tried the sweet heat of Turkish chilli flake, you'll wonder how you managed without. The Dock Kitchen's Stevie Parle sprinkles it on to fish and roast meats. In Turkey and northern Syria they are known as Aleppo peppers and used to garnish soups, stews and salads, including Middle Eastern food guru Anissa Helou's white tabbouleh.
One of the benefits of living in a vibrant, hustling, bustling city like London is all the local corner groceries, typically run by first, second or even third generation immigrants from around the world. While they are stocked with all the things you would expect in a corner shop, they often have a few unfamiliar treasures, popular with their local communities. For a curious cook like me they are an absolute godsend and arouse in me the feeling of that kid in the sweetshop. Unholy glee usually.

fennel and tomato stew
A few years ago I had run out of dried chilli flakes and nothing else would do. Not Tabasco or sweet chilli sauce, not fresh nor ground chilli. I wanted dried chilli flakes. I ran up the road to my local Turkish grocery (I say ran, it was more like a high-speed amble) and grabbed a packet of chilli flakes. But when I got to the counter I realised that these chilli flakes didn't look quite "right" and since the label on the packet was in Turkish and my Turkish is non-existent, I asked the shop owner for advice. "Yes," he said. "Very good; Turkish chilli." I wasn't convinced but I bought them anyway.

I knew that there was something different about these chilli flakes or pul biber. They were a bright but darker burgundy red colour than the usual ones you see; softer looking and there were no seeds. When I tasted them they weren't as hot and had a slight sweet, fruity flavour similar to dried fruit like raisins. Bloody brilliant and really versatile as they don't pack as much heat. I sprinkle them on salads or on pasta or use them in salad dressings and marinades.

I used the Aleppo pepper (pul biber) in a recent recipe for fennel and tomato stew, but if you can't find any just replace it with ordinary chilli flakes. But the Aleppo pepper (pul biber) does work beautifully with the slow cooked fennel and really enhances the mellow aniseed flavours. These combined with lemon and tomato, it is a sweet stew with just a hint of the medicinal and makes the perfect accompaniment to fish or roasted chicken or pork, best served at room temperature.

Serves 3-4 (as a side dish)
Skill level: Easy

1 tbsp olive oil
3 x shallots, finely chopped
2 x garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2-3 x fennel bulbs, trimmed
juice of 1 x fresh lemon
8-10 x baby plum tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp Aleppo pepper (pul biber) or ½-1 tsp chilli flakes

½ tsp smoked paprika
3-4 saffron threads
2 x bay leaves
250ml chicken (or vegetable) stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of sugar (optional)
bronze fennel fronds, chopped (or fresh flat leaf parsley)


  1. Trim, then remove the tough outer layers of the fennel and cut into quarters lengthways. Put the fennel in a bowl and squeeze over the lemon juice. Toss well to ensure that the fennel is well coated with juice. Set aside while you fry the onions and garlic.
  2. Heat olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onions for 5 minutes until beginning to soften. (I like to add a pinch of salt at this stage to bring out the onion juices.) Add the garlic and continue to fry for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue to fry for 1 minute before adding the spices, saffron and bay leaves. Stir well to combine before tipping in the chicken stock together with the fennel and lemon juice.
  3. Turn up the heat until the liquid begins to boil, before reducing the heat and simmer (with a lid on) for about 40 minutes until the fennel is completely softened.
  4. Check the seasoning. You may also need to add a pinch of sugar to balance out the sour lemon flavours.
  5. Serve at room temperature - it will be much tastier. Sprinkle over a little chopped fresh bronze fennel leaves.


  • Add a few chopped olives and the zest of a lemon too.
  • We thought it would be lovely in the summer as part of a mezze feast or as a main vegetarian course with loads of crusty fresh bread. 

1 comment:

Petra said...

It looks beautiful! I have never heard of this pepper and must try and find it as it sounds delicious!