Ezme – Tomato and Pepper Salad

One of the most frequently asked questions on our cruises must be this: “what is that delicious red stuff”? The answer is Ezme, a paste or salad primarily based on tomatoes and hot peppers.

Ezme is a very typical Turkish dish, served in lokantas and restaurants throughout the country. It is a striking example of one of the key virtues of Turkish cuisine, namely the use of simple ingredients and basic techniques to produce a surprisingly complex result. Its vibrant red colour, fresh and fruity aroma, its refreshing coldness, crispy or smooth texture and its surprising and invigorating spiciness make it a most memorable gastronomic experience.

There are many local or personal versions of the dish and, as always, we encourage you to experiment with different quantities or extra ingredients once you have familiarised yourself with the basic recipe. But ingredients apart, there is a further important possibility of variation – Ezme can be served in the form of a finely chopped salad, a dense and satisfying combination of crispness and juiciness, or as a smooth and rich paste, looking somewhat like ketchup, but concealing an immense complexity of flavour.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a side dish):

4 medium-sized tomatoes (it is important that you use the tastiest tomatoes you can find; their looks are irrelevant as they will be chopped. You can vary the number according to the size of fruit you use)
4 spring onions (again, aim for the sharpest-flavoured you can locate. A fresh red onion can also be used)
1 red pepper (yes, as above)
1 chilli pepper (hot, hot, hot!)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
juice of half a lemon
olive oil
parsley
salt and pepper

Optional:
1 tablespoon chilli paste or 1 teaspoon chilli powder (especially useful if you do not have access to hot chilli peppers. Tabasco sauce is a possible alternative)
1 teaspoon Turkish pomegranate syrup (if you don’t have any to hand, any other sweet sauce made from red sour fruits can be used to similar effect, e.g. redcurrant jam)
mint
1-3 cloves garlic

Preparation:

This is really easy! Take the tomatoes and peeled onions and chop them as finely as possible, taking care to preserve the tomato juice. Do the same with the peppers and parsley, the finer the better. Then, place everything in a bowl and add the other ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, and let it sit for at least an hour, so the flavours can intermingle freely.

Now you have a choice. If you want to serve your Ezme as a salad, leave it as it is and let it chill in the refrigerator. If you prefer the paste version, use a blender at medium to high strength to convert the mixture into an even mass. This, too, should then be chilled for at least an hour.

Ezme is a standard Turkish dish, but not a uniform one. Besides the chosen texture, there is also a great range of spiciness. This is where your own taste and your own creativity come into play. Often, the hotness of the chilli pepper is cut by the addition of something sweet, as mentioned in our optional ingredients above, to create an interesting balance of very pronounced spicy, acidic and sweet notes.

Ezme can be served by itself as a cold starter or a meze. It also works extremely well as an accompaniment to grilled meat (especially lamb) or fish. The spicier versions should be served with fresh white bread. Ayran, the traditional Anatolian yoghurt drink is a wonderfully refreshing accompaniment, as is a light white wine.