Kitchn Love Letters

I’m a Private Chef and I’m Using These Flavorful Turkish Spices on Meats, Veggies, and Desserts All Summer Long

published Jun 14, 2022
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persian kebabs next to pita on a tray
Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Even though I work in restaurant kitchens and as a private chef, I still get into cooking ruts. And because I work in restaurant kitchens and as a private chef, I have to find my way out of them ASAP. For me, there’s nothing like a really special ingredient — better yet two! — to inspire me to make something new and delicious.

Enter: Sumac and Urfa Biber from editor-loved spice brand Burlap and Barrel. This summer, I have everything from mixing them into salad dressings to marinating grilled vegetables and kebabs on my mind — and you will too once you get a taste.

I first discovered sumac years ago on a trip to Israel. It was everywhere, from sprinkled over hummus to marinating spiced-up feta, and its rosy color garnished every dish beautifully. The slightly acidic flavor immediately brightened up my Mediterranean meals, and I couldn’t wait to buy some when I got home. I’ve since scoured NYC grocers and spice shops for a quality version to match that bright flavor and naturally flaky texture I enjoyed halfway across the world, and I ended up finding what I’ve been looking for in a bulk container from Burlap and Barrel at the restaurant. We use it all the time to make sumac crema to dollop over shrimp tostadas and for dipping fried asparagus (yum!).

Even more exciting than pinpointing the perfect sumac was discovering the Urfa Biber next to it. Urfa Biber is a mild chili pepper, exuding little heat but with lots of deep, savory notes. It originates from southern Turkey, where Burlap and Barrel sources it directly and ships it right to your door. At work, we infuse it into an oil for a deliciously drizzle-able topping (it’s amazing on vanilla ice cream). Traditionally, Urfa makes a perfect seasoning for all your standard grilled favorites, like kebabs and smokey vegetables. I also find myself reaching for it to garnish plates with speckles of color and flavor.

These spices are no regular old powders from the supermarket, that’s for sure! So what makes Burlap and Barrel’s Cured Sumac and Urfa Biber stand out from the rest? For starters, both are salt cured. That’s not to say that they are salty, but rather the salt is used to safely and naturally prevent the spices from drying out (and losing their flavor). The two profiles naturally complement each other, but each is also bold enough to stand on its own to take a dish to the next level. Trust me, with these sumptuous spices in your cabinet to inspire you, you won’t have to worry about a cooking rut anytime soon.

Buy: Cured Sumac, $9.99; Urfa Biber Chili, $8.99